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Pilot completed for virtual court appearances by Horizon detainees

The Government has completed a pilot project to have persons from the Horizon Adult Remand Centre appear virtually for mention dates in court cases.

This was announced by Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, Senator Matthew Samuda, who said the initiative is part of the Administration’s drive to improve the efficiency of court proceedings through increased investment in technology.

“We had to move very quickly to get that going even though the project was on the books before, but we had to move a little faster with it because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) issues (where) every time somebody left, they had to be going into quarantine. So the reduction of the need for that movement was very important to how we have managed the disease thus far,” he said while speaking in the Senate of Friday.

Samuda said the Government will now be building out the programme across all the correctional facilities and major police stations.

“When that comes, it will improve the efficiency significantly for the courts, as well as the security forces who have to manage the movement of prisoners,” he stated.

He was closing the debate on two companion Bills to allow for drug samples and photographs of evidence to be received as evidence of large exhibits in court proceedings.

The Bills, which were approved, are the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2020, which was passed with six amendments; and the Evidence (Amendment) Act, 2020, which was approved without any amendment.

Samuda said the Bills are critical to the efficiency of the courts and ensuring that the courts function in a particular way.

The Bills are to allow for samples of drugs to be admitted into evidence, as well as photographs, videotapes, compact disks, laboratory analysis certificates, or other such means, which can be used to verify and document the identity and quantity of the drugs and substances seized by the police.

Specifically, the Dangerous Drugs Act is being amended to provide for the secure storage of drugs seized under the Act, and allow for such drugs to be destroyed. In any case, where such drugs are required as evidence, the Bill provides for samples and images of the drugs to be taken before the drugs are destroyed, and for those samples and images to be received in evidence and have the same probative force as the drugs would have if proved in an ordinary way.

The amendment to the Evidence Act will provide that in any case where “a thing” is seized as evidence, a sample or image of the thing may be taken by or under the direction of a constable; and for the sample or image so taken, to be received in evidence to have the same probative force as the thing would have if proved in an ordinary way.

As such, it will reduce the possibility of corruption, eliminate or minimise evidence tampering, and reduce the need for large storage, and prevent storeroom congestion.

Additionally, the amendments will expand the 1996 Practice Directions issued by the then Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in relation to the handling of large drug evidence, by codifying them into law.

This will allow for the court to order the destruction of seized drugs generally, provided that appropriate samples of the drugs have been taken safely and are adequately secured.

The Bills were passed in the House of Representatives on December 8 last year.