The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has lost its bid to host a physical in-person trial for a former police officer accused of corruption.
Ramesh Ramgobin was scheduled to go on trial before Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds, last October, but just as it was about to commence virtually the DPP’s Office applied to have it held physically at a courthouse.
At the time Ramgobin’s lawyer Sophia Chote supported the application or the postponement of the trial as she claimed that the virtual trial would infringe on her client’s right to confront witnesses in person.
Delivering a virtual hearing yesterday, Ramsumair-Hinds dismissed the application.
Despite her substantive ruling, Ramsumair-Hinds suggested that the concerns raised by both parties could be addressed through a hybrid trial, in which some witnesses will testify electronically, while others will do so traditionally in a courthouse, under ongoing COVID-19 protocols.
Ramsumair-Hinds also rejected submissions that practice directions issued by Chief Justice Ivor Archie since the start of the pandemic, which limited access to court buildings and encouraged virtual hearings, were insufficient as there was no primary legislation to facilitate such.
She referred to the Miscellaneous Provisions (Administration of Justice) Act 2020, which was proclaimed late last year.
Although the legislation, which empowers the Chief Justice to issue such directions for virtual trials, was not in force at the time the application was made, Ramsumair-Hinds referred to several Commonwealth legal precedents, which supported the position.
“They may find no need to go any further than the stated objectives, namely to provide clear guidance to judges, judicial officers, attorneys, members of court staff, litigants, and stakeholders as to the procedure to be adopted,” she said.
“Mechanisms that promote the use of technology and the dispensation of justice consistent with provisions of rules of the court and uniform and reliable approach to such hearings, a feasible and workable alternative to in-person hearings to utilize not just in times of crisis but in the course of normal operations,” she added.
She also noted that the Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2020, which is currently being debated by Parliament, also seeks to address the issue.
Ramsumair-Hinds also questioned the position taken by prosecutors as she noted that their colleagues had encouraged her to host a virtual trial in a separate case, last year.
“May I suggest, even as I appreciate prosecutors do enjoy a degree of autonomy in trial strategy, that they are careful to advance some consistency in their argument on behalf of the DPP,” Ramsumair-Hinds said.
The case is expected to come for hearing on February 15, when the parties are expected to indicate which witnesses they want to testify in-person and those who are to do so via video link from a facility set up by the Judiciary.
Ramgobin, who was assigned to the Fraud Squad before being suspended due to the charge, is accused of corruptly receiving a $3,000 bribe from Ryan Ramkhelwan to forgo prosecuting him for larceny.
The offence is alleged to have occurred in November 2006.