Dame Pereira made the statements during the opening of the 2021 law year on Wednesday January 13, via a live media broadcast aired in all of the member states and territories of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
She said that in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had significantly hampered the court’s ability to effectively manage its caseload, with several of its member states and territories halting the conduct of jury trials.
They halted jury trials because of the inability to provide an environment that adheres to the required COVID-19 protocols.
“The simple truth is that many of our courtrooms are too small and, in some cases, not enough. In the COVID-19 environment, it is impossible to have jurors sit elbow-to-elbow. The question then becomes, ‘what is the solution to this dilemma?’. In my view, the time is right for all governments in consultation with civil society to engage in discussions on the implementation of Judge-Alone Criminal Trials for specific case types within the context and framework of the constitutional mandate of fair trials within a reasonable time,” she stated.
The Chief Justice also said Judge-Alone Criminal trials are not new in the region, making several references to notable countries who have been practising the measure.
“This move has enjoyed much success in reducing the case backlogs in the neighbouring state of Trinidad & Tobago as well as Belize. It is also being practised in the Cayman Islands and in the Turks and Caicos Islands. I have no doubt that in this COVID climate in particular, the implementation of Judge-Alone Criminal Trials will go a long way in reducing the backlog of criminal cases in the Eastern Caribbean with no impact whatsoever on the fairness of such trials,” Chief Justice Pereira said.
She further said the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the courts to deepen its reliance on ICT tools to optimize the efficiency of operations.
She also said member states and territories should act swiftly in adopting these new technologies to avoid having to play catch-up in years to come.
“COVID-19 has catapulted us here sooner rather than we have anticipated. I therefore encourage legal practitioners in all our member states and territories to become fully ICT proficient to avoid the risk of being left behind,” Chief Justice Pereira stated.
“I extend my appreciation to the team from the court’s headquarters and the registrars and staffs of the various high court offices, for their hard work in facilitating continued ICT training of judicial officers, legal practitioners and court staff alike, as well as harnessing our ICT resources to keep the wheels of justice turning,” she added.
The Chief Justice also pointed to the recently implemented the E-Litigation Portal, which she said has demonstrated in this COVID-19 era the critical role ICT plays in keeping the operations of the court in motion.
“In those member states linked to the portal, we’ve made provisions for email filings as service by email. This was achieved by the passing of emergency practice directions, a practice guide and the adoption of remote hearing protocols, all of which are still in effect. These will ensure a measure of continuity of the court’s operations even as various levels of lockdown are in place. Indeed, there is no doubt that ICT driven courts are here to stay,” she explained.
The BVI is one of the three British Overseas Territories which are a member of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. The other two members include Anguilla and Montserrat.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.