Concerns have been raised over whether the Supreme Court is properly outfitted to continue in-person jury trials in light of the Delta variant outbreak.
With the new Assizes set to begin next Monday, Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim is calling for authorities to do the necessary inspections to ensure the building is adequate to accommodate the numbers of persons necessary for face-to-face jury trials.
The Supreme Court had been closed and cases heard virtually for several months following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
Since its re-opening to the public on April 20, several in-person jury trials have been held.
While an official date has not been given for in-person jury trials to resume, Attorney General Dale Marshall said in May they should begin soon.
“We are returning slowly again to a state of normalcy. Face-to-face jury trials will resume in the very, very, near future because obviously our ability to conduct High Court criminal cases would have been affected because of the inability of us to have a jury present given the COVID situation. That is being addressed,” Marshall said at the time.
Efforts to reach Marshall for an update were unsuccessful up to press time.
However, with the outbreak of the highly-contagious and infectious variant that has resulted in a significant increase in COVID-19 cases on the island, Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY a thorough assessment should be done.
He pointed to the fact that the Supreme Court had no windows and used air conditioning systems.
“We should get expert advice on it, especially with the Supreme Court building as it stands with no true ventilation. You can’t open a window. So I think experts should come in and tell us what should happen and whether we should have the number of people we have in these rooms, the ventilation system being what it is, so we can feel confident and comfortable that we’re not going to be just like a factory or some of the churches,” Pilgrim said.
However, fellow Q.C. Michael Lashley told Barbados TODAY he believed the Supreme Court was adequate to hold those numbers.
He said once the proper protocols were followed persons would be safe.
But Lashley suggested that there may need to be a reduction in people allowed in a courtroom and only those deemed necessary should be allowed to enter.
“It is my view that once you follow the safety protocols, ensure that everybody is sanitized, ensure that you have people in there making sure that you follow the protocols, you can do some trials. You can’t tell how long a trial will be but there are some people who want to plead guilty that you can deal with and get them out quickly too,” he said.
“We might have to only have in the courtroom only the jury pool that is sitting and the necessary persons that are connected to the trial, but in terms of having waiting jurors and so on I don’t think we should have that.”
President of the Barbados Bar Association, Rosalind Smith-Millar told Barbados TODAY she had received no official communication regarding the resumption of the Assizes and therefore could not speak on the matter.