Even with the decision to temporarily move court cases online because of the territory’s current COVID-19 outbreak, the virus has still managed to affect the Magistrate’s Court ability to host virtual hearings.
BVI News contacted the Magistrate Courts’ offices on Monday and a representative said most of the hearings for this week have been adjourned because of COVID-19 cases at the court.
The representative told our news centre that some staff members are isolated because of close contact with infected persons while others have been confirmed as being positive for COVID.
This means the court’s staff cannot access the court’s facilities to facilitate the administration of justice in the territory until they’ve completed the legally required quarantine time and then produce a negative COVID-19 test.
The magistrates and their staff typically host online hearings from the physical courthouse. BVI News was told that these virtual court sessions should be back next week.
Virtual hearings here to stay
Meanwhile, there is the growing belief among members of the legal fraternity that virtual hearings will be here for a while as the territory grapples to keep the infection rates under control.
At the recent opening of the 2022 Law Year of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira questioned how the justice system would look in the next five to 10 years.
“It is, I think fair to say, that as COVID-19 lingers on, and even beyond the pandemic, digitally-driven courts will be critical to the continued administration of justice,” Justice Pereira said.
She noted that courts around the world have arrived at the conclusion that digitally operated courts and services are here to stay as the administration of justice through digital platforms was a welcomed transformation as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the judicial system into survival mode.
Even Attorney General, Dawn Smith has noted that the legal fraternity in the Eastern Caribbean has, in recent years, pushed the boundaries of the practice of law and dispute resolution.
“Most recently, we have adapted to remote access for the conduct of case management conferences, hearings, and other interactions in the dispute resolution space as we have braved extreme natural disasters and a global pandemic”, she stated during her address for the opening of the new law year.
The Attorney General congratulated the Chief Justice on her steady and visionary leadership and congratulated the ECSC Bench and Bar for their resolve to follow her into the digital age and urged them not to downplay the significance of the steps taken thus far.
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