Decision makers mull ways to continue hearing criminal trials

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By Elesha George

[email protected]

The Antigua Barbuda Bar Association and legal minds within the Ministry of Legal Affairs are working together to identify ways to resume criminal trials in the High Court.

Jury trials were discontinued indefinitely due to the spread of Covid-19 and it has created a backlog of cases with no definite end to the world pandemic.

As one option, the government is proposing a Criminal Procedure (Trials by Judge Alone) Bill 2020 which makes provisions for criminal trials to take place without a jury in certain circumstances.

The judge alone option applies to persons who are committed for trial or are indicted for offences to include larceny, forgery, corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes.

However, an accused person who commits other indictable offences can elect to be tried by a judge alone or by a jury.

Implementing a judge only trial will also eliminate the need to pay jurors thus saving the government at a time when it is difficult to collect funds for government operations.

The draft bill was shared to the bar association two weeks ago for review.

President of the Bar Association, Lenworth Johnson told Observer that the Bar Council has not yet taken a formal position on the matter but he shared that its members had varying views, and some concerns as well recommendations about the proposed bill.

One of those recommendations is retrofitting the court to recognise Covid-19 protocols and by using virtual trials. For example, Johnson is recommending that a jury be placed in a separate room while the judge and the prosecution sit separately to hear the trial.

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