(CMR) The much-anticipated access to the ongoing Cayman Marl Road Criminal trial will not be available via Zoom today it was decided earlier this morning.
In today’s court proceedings in the trial of CMR host, Sandy Hill, Justice Chapple gave what many argue is a direct blow to open court access but strictly interpreting the Chief Justice’s practice directions that Zoom access can only be permitted if they attend Constitutional Hall in George Town. He decided that the directives are very clear but still left him troubled about certain aspects of the proceedings.
The judge admitted that his initial decision to allow the live stream access yesterday was made before this practice direction was brought to his attention.
However, potentially seriously constitutional issues were raised as a result of the practice direction and it remains unclear if anyone will seek to legally challenge it at this early stage. The directions in part read as follows:
The judge did ask who would be interested in viewing these proceedings and the defense shared that over 200 persons were initially tuned in yesterday to the live stream event which was later pulled.
The decision was made after hearing from both sides on the matter. The crown lawyer, Darlene Oko, was in full agreement that the restrictions in place meant that there should be no public streaming of the event. However, the defense questioned the interpretation of this given that the Court of Appeals had recently streamed publicly on the Cayman judiciary website.
Many thought that the court has initially touted that there would be open access for persons to be able to view court proceedings via online access on the judiciary website. This position was shared by way of a press release issued last month.
However, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie issued practice directions on May 5 that restricts the public’s access to a specific location. Defense attorney Clayton Phuran argued that the intent could not have been to restrict the movement of a large part of the population to court access who can only traverse on a given day based on their last name.
In the end, the judge decided that the directions were sufficiently clear for his purposes despite this “being a troubling position to be in” and that the legislators were best suited to decide the broader issue of courtroom access via Zoom as it represented a fundamental change in the criminal justice system in this jurisdiction. He opined that there could be a distinction between civil and criminal trial access and the United States had a far more liberal approach to access inside of courtrooms than had traditionally been the UK’s approach.
In other jurisdictions such as the UK and USA a number of trials have been conducted via Zoom with full public access being granted. The USA Supreme Court recently heard its first trial via Zoom. More recently, the same Cayman Judiciary shared the Court of Appeal appeal trial by way of Zoom and its as re-shared without any objections on various platforms including Cayman Marl Road.