The January Assizes opened on Tuesday at the St. George’s No. 2 High Court with 139 matters on the Cause List, a reduction of 18 matters, compared to the October 2017 Assizes, which listed 157 matters.
Once again, sexual crimes continue to dominate the list with a total of 55 cases down for adjudication between the two criminal courts on the island – High Court No. 5, presided over by Trinidad-born Justice Shiraf Aziz and No. 2 High Court by Guyanese born female justice, Paula Gilford.
The October 2017 Assizes saw a total of 62 sexual offences listed.
In an interview with THE NEW TODAY, Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Brandon La Touche said, the “steady increase and influx in sexual matters, ranging from rape, incest and sex with minors” continues to be an area of grave concern.
“We have seen a lot (of cases) involving incest,” he said, noting that “fathers having sexual intercourse with their daughters, has gotten so serious that it involves those at a very tender age (in which) children as low as ages 5 and 7 have become victims.”
“We (have been) seeing also the impact it (the sexual crime) has on them (sex victims) and how traumatised they are (especially) having to come (to court) to give evidence and having to deal with the follow up of these matters, whether the alleged perpetrator is convicted or not. So, it’s very heavy burdened on the families and the communities”, he remarked.
THE NEW TODAY understands that a total of 121 of the cases listed on the January Assizes list, were traversed from the October Assizes, which concluded last December.
Of the traversed matters, 8 would have either pleaded guilty or found guilty by trial and were scheduled for sentencing on Wednesday before Justice Gilford.
Notable cases included Dave Benjamin, who will be sentenced for Capital Murder for the January 24, 2016 death of United States national, Jessica Colker, and Akim Frank, who pleaded guilty to Manslaughter for the December 6 killing of Canadian citizen, Linnea Veinotte following an accident along the Lance Aux Epines main road.
Another due for sentencing is Phillip Baptiste, for Non- Capital Murder in connection with the March 26, 2017, death of his uncle Glen ‘Brass’ Baptiste.
Monday’s opening ceremony saw jurors being selected and assigned to both criminal courts.
Addressing the ceremony, longstanding Attorney-at-Law, Ashley Bernardine, noted that “being a juror is one of the few areas (in) which the public has active participation in determining justice.
He urged jurors to exercise “fairness and impartiality” in carrying out their duties, and for them to consider the kind of treatment they would like to be meted out, if they or someone close to them find themselves in that predicament.
“You must ask yourself, if it was you or a member of your family that was in that position (on trial); how I would want to be viewed or treated?”
Another seasoned Attorney, George Prime rose to echo the sentiments expressed by his colleague.
“We must realise that the matters coming before the court has to be dealt with as real life issues and situations,” Attorney Prime said, adding that “trial by jury has remained intact because it is tried, tested and it works.”
Attorney-at-Law, Darshan Ramdhany also added his voice to the discourse and expressed concern with the approach that jurors take from time to time as they participate in the administration of Justice.
He urged jurors to endeavour to deliver a true version of the facts presented to the court and not prejudice the case with unrelated matters.
Justice Gilford, who presided over the opening ceremony along with Justice Aziz, reminded the Jurors of the important role they play in the administration of justice and called for more private lawyers to make an effort to handle more pro-bono cases, pointing to the “large number of persons on the list who are unrepresented.”
“It’s important that you take it seriously”, she said.
The female Justice reiterated the importance of fair and impartial justice to be handed out by jurors.
She noted that while everyone may hold their own view about a case or a person their “verdict must be entirely based on the evidence provided to the court.”