Three men on remand for murder for over a decade have pleaded for their judge-alone trials to take place virtually with the continued closure of court building due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The men, who are all facing separate charges, made the pleas as their cases came up for status hearing before Justice Hayden St Clair-Douglas, yesterday.
Addressing the court from a video conferencing room at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca, Victor Flores, who is jointly charged with his brother John for the 2010 murder of Seecharan Sankar, questioned the delay in his case going to trial virtually.
“We sign up for video conference, so let we have video,” Flores said.
“The case have to go virtual…We can not wait for witnesses to come to court, that not happening at all,” he added.
Prosecutor Indira Chinebas explained that there were two main witnesses against the siblings and both the Office of the director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Flores’ attorneys wanted them to testify in person. She said that such was not possible under recent practice directions issued by Chief Justice Ivor Archie.
Justice St Clair-Douglas suggested that the parties reconsider their stance and consider having the witnesses attend specialised video conferencing facilities established by the Judiciary, to allow witnesses to give evidence under oath much like in in-person hearings in court buildings.
Dealing with a case of former police officer Anthony Sylvester, who is charged with murdering Sheldon Des Vignes in 2007, Justice St Clair-Douglas also suggested that the parties make use of virtual facilities made available by the Judiciary.
“Once you line up your witnesses, I can get them to a place where they can be heard,” he said.
Prosecutor Ambay Ramkhelewan explained that five witnesses in the case were eyewitnesses and the State had to determine if issues with their credibility can be tested sufficiently if they testify virtually.
Sylvester’s attorneys Israel Khan, SC, and Ulric Skerritt did not raise any issues and said that like their client, they were eager to start the case.
St Clair-Douglas adjourned the case to August 25 for the State to report back on his suggestion.
Murder accused Jason Le Maitre, who is jointly charged with Sheldon Thomas for a murder in 2004, also complained over delays in his case when it was called by Justice St Clair-Douglas.
Le Maitre complained that he was on remand for almost 17 years and elected to have a judge-alone trial, last year.
“It is almost 18 years and it killing me. I am 43 and I have been in prison since 25,” Le Maitre said.
“It is really stressful. It comes like I do a whole sentence on remand,” he said, as he claimed that he felt that his constitutional rights were infringed but could not afford the legal fees to pursue a lawsuit over the issue.
Ramkhelawan, who is also prosecuting their case, undertook to make checks on witnesses in the case to determine if the trial could commence soon.
“We are going to try to push this matter to go ahead,” she said.
Le Maitre’s case was also adjourned to August 25.