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Judge bemoans inaction on courtroom space

A Supreme Court judge highlighted yesterday the continued failure by the Government to set up coronavirus-compliant courtrooms for criminal trials.

Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons said she was keen to set trial dates for 19 cases.

But she told Mark Pettingill, the defence counsel for Jahmico Trott, that she did “not have a Covid regulation-compliant courtroom” so could not set a trial date for his client, or for any other cases.

Mrs Justice Simmons said: “For me, it wouldn't matter if it was held in a warehouse.

“I would be happy to list all of the trials, all 19 awaiting trial dates at the moment, but I cannot help you with a trial date.”

She added: “It is up to the Government of Bermuda to provide sufficient funds so private enterprise can fit out an appropriate space for a trial, or for Government to provide the manpower to provide an appropriate space.”

Mrs Justice Simmons said there had been “no movement” by the Government to take steps to create a suitable venue for trials to be held.

She said: “So what else can I do? I cannot give you a trial date.”

Mrs Justice Simmons added: “What can I say if I am not given the tools?”

Mr Trott is charged with attempted murder, use of a firearm in an indictable offence, possession of a firearm with criminal intent, corruption of a witness and intimidation of a witness.

Mr Pettingill said the courtroom situation was “entirely unsatisfactory”.

He added: “It again raises more constitutional issues with respect to the right to a fair trial in a reasonable time.

“We will have to again consider what constitutional application must be made.”

The Constitution guarantees that anyone charged with a criminal offence would get “a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law”.

A constitutional application made by Mr Pettingill on behalf of his client last month successfully challenged the Criminal Code provision that allowed prosecutors to stand down an unlimited number of potential jurors, although defence counsel could only challenge three without reason.

Mr Trott's case was yesterday adjourned until October 14.

Defence lawyer Charles Richardson said in court later that another Supreme Court judge had said they expected that trials would start before the end of the year.

He asked: “Is that the court's official position?”

Mrs Justice Simmons said: “I am not in a position to know. I made comments this morning about the lack of movement outfitting one courtroom.

“I am not in a position to say when we will hold the first trial.”

She added: “I hope that Government is aware of the court's constitutional responsibility to ensure that trials are held within a reasonable time.”

Mrs Justice Simmons said that an additional 22 “new cases” had been “listed since Covid-19 graced our shores”, in addition to the 19 cases already on hold.

She added that once a suitable venue was created, the court would start to hear “short cases to ensure the jury is comfortable and the physical plant, however adjusted, can meet the Covid regulations and support a jury trial”.

Mrs Justice Simmons raised the problem of the lack of a suitable courtroom at a hearing last month.

She said that several locations for a suitable venue had been considered, but the options were expensive and funding was limited.

The Supreme Court left Sessions House before renovations started last year.

Jury trials were held in a modified Magistrates' Court courtroom in the Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building on Court Street for more than a year, but were halted because of Covid-19 concerns.

Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons

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Published August 19, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated August 19, 2020 at 7:51 am)

Judge bemoans inaction on courtroom space

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