Judiciary expands coronavirus protocols, all new trials suspended

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The judiciary has expanded its coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation protocols to suspend all jury trials for nearly three weeks.

Chief Justice Brian Moree outlined measures pertaining to court hearings and trials in a statement released today.

“Court operations will be restricted to essential services required for the proper functioning of the Judiciary under the Constitution and laws of The Bahamas,” the statement read.

“The Judiciary remains committed to ensuring continued access to justice while protecting the health and well-being of our judicial officers, staff and members of the public who use the Courts.”

Magistrate Court arraignments, first time pleas and bail applications will proceed between the hours of 10.30am and 2.30pm, subject to social distancing requirements.

All fines, including fines under Fixed Penalty Notices, in traffic cases can be paid under current procedures.

“Only persons who must be in the (Magistrate) court room will be allowed to enter and in any event no more than 15 persons at any time,” the statement read.

“Hearings to be sequenced under the oversight of the Police to avoid overcrowding.”

New trials will be suspended in criminal cases, juvenile cases and Coroner Inquests until the week of April 14.

Moree said a determination will be made at that time with regard to the future course of these trials.

First pleas in traffic cases are suspended until after March 31.

Dates of first pleas scheduled for March 23 to March 31 “are adjourned from the date on which it was to be heard to the same date in the following month,” the statement read.

“If the adjourned date falls on a weekend or public holiday, it is adjourned to the next court business day.”

All trials in traffic cases are suspended until March 31, when the position will be reviewed.

Remands will continue by video link with the Remand Court at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services facility.

Part heard criminal trials, juvenile trials and Coroner Inquests are suspended until March 31.

Between March 23 and March 31, the Office of the Coroner will be open during weekdays from 10am to 2pm for the signing of releases.

Voluntary Bills of Indictment will be suspended until March 31.

Family Court payments during the period March 23 to March  31 can be made and funds received at the Cashier’s counter in the Magistrates Court.

All travel by Magistrates for Circuit Court is suspended until April 14, when the position will be reviewed.

Urgent applications in all cases can be made to the Chief Magistrate for a hearing date.

Supreme Court

At the Supreme Court, new criminal jury trials are suspended until April 14, and the position will be reviewed based on the circumstances.

The members of the jury pool for each criminal court will be contacted by the Bailiff of that court to inform them when to return to court,” the statement read.

All criminal case management conference and pre-trial reviews are suspended until April 14.

New dates for all Supreme Court hearings are vacated and will be assigned by the respective judge, including new dates for interlocutory applications.

Civil trials already underway, and court hearings before Registrars will be suspended until April 14.

Dates for new court hearings before Registrars will be assigned by the respective Registrar.

All Supreme Court arraignments fixed for March 27 are adjourned to May 8 at 10am.

Only urgent Supreme Court bail applications will be heard until March 31.

The Urgent Bail Judge Roster is posted on the Judiciary’s website – bahamasjudiciary.com,” the statement read.

“Where possible, the hearing will proceed with the lawyer alone in court or by video conference. If required, the accused person will be in court. In either instance, the in-person hearings will be conducted in accordance with social distancing requirements.”

Interlocutory applications will be stayed until April 14, unless designated urgent.

“Urgent interlocutory applications are applications for injunctions; domestic violence protection orders; child protection orders; orders under the Mental Health Act; orders under international Treaties; writs of habeas corpus; and any other orders deemed by the Judge to be fit for hearing on an urgent basis,” the statement continued.

“The Duty Civil Judge or in a pending case, the assigned Judge, will determine if the application is to be heard on an urgent basis.”

According to the statement, the Family Registry, Probate Registry and Appeals Registry are closed until March 31.

The offices of the Civil Registry, located in the BAF Financial Building on George Street, will also be closed until March 31. The Criminal Registry on Bank Lane will also be closed during this period.

However, both registries will operate out of a satellite office in Supreme Court Annex 1 (formerly known as the Ansbacher Building) located on Bank Lane.

The Civil Registry will operate during the hours of 1pm and 4pm.

Cause List Searches will be suspended during this period; however, court documents can be filed in the usual way.