by Sascha Wilson

The Assembly of Southern Lawyers is calling for all courts to be closed for at least two weeks in the first instance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The courts should be closed at this time, particularly having regard to what the Prime Minister just said that there should be gatherings of no more than 25 persons. We all know that there are more than 25 persons at the court building at any one point in time,” said president Michael Rooplal. 

He called on the Judiciary to implement alternative measures for the management of matters in the interim, including the use of electronic case management.  He said civil matters could easily be managed through emails and phone contact. 

He told the Guardian Media that consideration could be given for persons on charge cases to be granted bail at the police stations, or if need be a court can be set up to deal with charge matters and other specific matters with a limited number of people present.   

In a release Rooplal further stated, While the need to maintain access to justice, we do not believe that such access would be at the risk of exposure to the public, litigants, court sated and attorneys-at-law appearing before the courts. The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in terms of its potential consequences for the elderly and most vulnerable in society, many of whom appear before our courts regularly.” 

Commending on the Judiciary’s measures to limit the number of people attending the courts, and screening those entering the courts, he said medical experts have stated that infected persons may not exhibit symptoms for a number of days.  

“As I write this letter, there are scores of persons lining up outside of the courts in San Fernando enter same. The situation is highly irresponsible and unreasonable, and cannot be condoned.” 

At the entrance to the courts throughout the country, the hands of members of the public were sprayed with a sanitizer. They were asked whether they travelled abroad or came in contact with anyone who did in the last 21 days and whether they were exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

The officers escorting the prisoners to the courts wore gloves and some wore face masks.

There have been four confirmed cases of COVID-19 in T&T.