A High Court Judge is clearing his court’s calendar to hear the matters of some prisoners presently on remand at Dodds Prison and who may not have had a hearing for a protracted period.
Today, all matters set before the No. 2 Supreme Court for next week were suspended and status hearings for persons on remand at Dodds wishing to plead guilty are being scheduled to begin on June 17.
Justice Randall Worrell made the announcement this morning moments after 52-year-old Joel Mckenzie McDonald Springer of Hope Road and Northumberland, St Lucy, pleaded guilty to several criminal offences. He had not been before a High Court since 2016. Springer informed the court that there were 17 other inmates in his building who were also desirous of pleading guilty.
“All matters that are set for next week in this court are suspended except the [manslaughter] trial that is presently engaging the court. All of them are suspended! We will have status hearings on all those persons who wish to plead guilty . . . on whether they have indictments or whether they do not . . . [and] we will be dealing with those matters from as early as next Monday,” the judge said.
He explained that there are some administrative matters that would have to be dealt with but the hearings will go on in a bid to give those inmates their day before the High Court.
“Some of them do not know which court they belong to but we will have status hearings, that is what this court is going to embark upon so that these persons can say they came to court. Whether they are then assigned to [Supreme] Court No. 5 or No. 2 that is an administrative matter,” Worrell stated.
Veteran Attorney Angella Mitchell-Gittens who is representing Springer as a friend of the court, gave the judge the thumbs up for the move.
“I am sure we will see a significant reduction in the backlog,” Mitchell-Gittens said.
Last week Winston Adolphus Agard appeared in court for the first time in seven years, after being on remand for close to a decade. He pleaded guilty to the 2009 charge brought against him. The court heard that he had “fallen through the cracks” a matter that alarmed jurists, senior Government officials and members of the public.
Today, Mitchell-Gittens also informed the High Court judge that she had already filed ten bail applications for some inmates on remand at the Whitepark Road, St Michael Court Complex this morning with another ten to follow suit.
“It seems nobody knows how to get them here [so] I would see if I can get them here all on bail,” she added.
However, Worrell said that his court would not wait on that process.
“We are not going to wait till the bail applications filter through the system . . . ,” Worrell stated adding that Prison Officer Floyd Downes who brought the situation of inmates languishing on remand to the court’s attention will be notified to have all those persons who have indictments brought to court.
The judge added: “We will then proceed to the ones who have been committed but have not received an indictment as yet, that is the best that I can do at this point . . . to assist persons who are similar to Mr Agard and Mr Springer, who wish to plead guilty. . . . So that we can get rid of that particular aspect of the backlog and then concentrate on the other trials.”
Justice Worrell is not only getting the support of Mitchell-Gittens. Queen’s Counsel Michael Lashley is fully on board with the initiative.
“I support it as it will expedite the process . . .something similar to what we use to have before which is a plea of direction hearing . . . . But I support it. I think that will help alleviate the delays,” Lashley said.
Veteran attorney-at-law Arthur Holder who is a current Member of Parliament and Speaker of the House of Assembly, described Worrell’s decision as a step in the right direction and “a workable solution” which would facilitate the process. He was however quick to point out that there were similar systems in place before such as jail delivery and plea and directions hearing.
“If [those] were complied with, we would never have a situation as to what currently occurs and it is as simple as that. All we need is a specific system in place so that matters can be expedited. Not only expedited, but the court is aware of persons who have attorneys and who do not have attorneys.
“What it means is that we have to get back to basics that is all we need to do. If we get back to basics these issues that have surfaced will never occur. It also calls for . . . a collaborative effort. We need to sit down all the stakeholders and find a workable solution but it can be solved,” Arthur said.
Senator Damian Sands, also an attorney, agreed with his colleagues but said there must be the right balance.
“I think that it is a good idea, however, you still have to find the balance because while you might suspend the pending matters for persons who want trial, to deal with the persons who want to plead guilty . . . on the same hand there are still a number of persons who want their day in trial who are maintaining their innocence,” Sands said. email@example.com