In addition to closely following rule of law updates to understand the local context, NCSC is monitoring the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the region’s criminal justice system.
The Caribbean Anti-Crime (CAC) program has adapted quickly to address the evolving needs of Caribbean courts in the time of COVID-19. Recognizing the need to support justice sector institutions during this critical time, NCSC engaged counterparts to discuss short-, mid- and long-term solutions to planned programs and new initiatives. Counterparts welcomed the opportunity to participate in virtual training initiatives in lieu of in-person programs.
Trainings, workshops, and meetings that would typically have been conducted in-person have continued virtually, and the CBSI-Connect distance learning platform has proved useful in facilitating virtual learning and collaboration. NCSC also shared information with the Caribbean chief justices on COVID-19 responses by U.S. and regional courts and the use of technology to ensure access to justice continues during the pandemic.
CAC has hosted over 50 virtual events since COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020.
One such meeting is a monthly virtual judicial KIT for judges and magistrates throughout the Caribbean where participants can raise concerns and challenges related to effective court implementation during COVID restrictions, and brainstorm and share solutions with their regional counterparts. Use of technology including videoconferencing and virtual platforms have facilitated court hearings and emergency procedures in criminal cases. These court led solutions have allowed judges, prosecutors, prisons, and defense attorneys to deliver justice in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virtual judicial KIT - May 2020
With the support of the U.S. Government, the Trinidad & Tobago courts have emerged as the model for the region, transitioning to a modern and cost-effective court case management system developed in collaboration with NCSC and consortium countries. This transition has continued even as judicial officers and court administrators work remotely, and NCSC has maintained close contact to ensure the courts have access to the necessary support.
Similarly, in April through June, the CAC Financial Crimes team hosted four online trainings on confiscation for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Barbados, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. These trainings were well-timed given the introduction of new confiscation legislation and the renewed emphasis placed on confiscation/forfeiture of criminal assets by the DPP. This was the first confiscation training for many of the attorneys in attendance.
57% of total participants were female
43% of total participants were male
This is an ongoing effort and data will continue to be updated
Caribbean courts are adapting to COVID-19 challenges with virtual solutions and social distancing in the courts.
In May, Trinidad and Tobago conducted a virtual judge alone murder trial demonstrating the capacity of criminal justice system to provide access to justice through technology. Using video conferencing, electronic filings and submissions from attorneys, the judge heard testimony from fourteen witnesses. Only two witnesses appeared in-person to give evidence. Electronic and technology solutions demonstrated that justice could move swiftly and fairly while adhering to pandemic restrictions. CAC's funding of digital recording equipment and training of court staff contributed to the technology advancements of the Trinidad & Tobago criminal courts, and the use of digital recording was critical to producing transcripts of the proceedings in real time, enabling the trial to proceed smoothly, and setting a precedent for future cases.
Conceptual illustration of Trinidad & Tobago virtual court
Additionally, the Guyana Judiciary has continued to operate despite physical lockdowns and movement restrictions. Existing matters continue to be heard remotely by Judicial Officers on platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp, and even by telephone. In cases where there must be an in-person hearing, select courtrooms have been outfitted with plexiglass to minimize risk of exposure. These precautions are intended to augment other social distancing guidelines. In July, the Supreme Court live streamed proceedings on YouTube, another example of not only the adaptability of the courts, but also their commitment to accessibility and transparency.
Guyana courtroom outfitted with plexiglass
Livestream of Supreme Court of Guyana proceedings
CAC has many virtual activities scheduled for the coming months.
The Financial Crimes Technical Working Group conference that was originally scheduled to take place in March 2020 in Bridgetown, Barbados was postponed due to COVID-19, and will now be conducted virtually in September. The conference will bring together national, regional, and international justice sector professionals to promote best practices investigating and prosecuting transnational financial crimes and conducting civil asset recovery procedures.
The program will also continue the next phase of the Digital Recording Initiative in The Bahamas. The initiative is designed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the Bahamian justice sector by supporting efforts to modernize the courts through the advancement of digital recording of court proceedings. CAC will host a portion of the follow-on trainings virtually. Additionally, NCSC experts remain available to the Bahamian courts as they remotely begin creating strategic planning working groups.
CAC is working on a Maritime Crime Assessment, which will identify investigative, legal, and procedural barriers preventing CBSI partner-countries from successfully investigating, prosecuting, and adjudicating maritime narcotrafficking offenses in the Caribbean region. This effort will include a virtual tabletop exercise in late August with participants across countries and agencies. The tabletop exercise will enhance both the accuracy and impact of the assessment. By conducting these exercises virtually, they will also help with inspiring new standard operating procedures for information sharing, interagency collaboration, and regional cooperation amid the 2020 change in context.
The Regional Gang Investigation and Prosecution Training initiative is designed to strengthen the capacity of the regional DPP offices and law enforcement to investigate and prosecute gang related criminal activities. It also seeks to enhance the capacity of regional judges and magistrates to adjudicate gang related cases. The initiative includes a series of workshops and peer-to-peer consultations in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
For more information on COVID-19 and the courts
*This organization is not affiliated in any way with the Caribbean Anti-Crime program or the National Center for State Courts.