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A visit to the High Court

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The criminal assizes are held three times a year, starting on the first Tuesday in February, June and October and ending two to three months thereafter.

The Assizes, which started in October, is about to finish but I will take you through the proceedings so that you would know what goes on in court. Before you enter the courtroom you would be frisked with an electronic wand by one of the police officers at the entrance of the court. If you carry a bag it could be searched. These are security measures for the safety of everyone. {{more}}

The officer must make sure that no one carries weapons into the courtroom. You are expected to be neat and clean. If you are a witness in the case do not go into court. You have to wait outside in the waiting area until your name is called. This is to prevent you from hearing the evidence of other witnesses.

Having heard the evidence of other witnesses there might be the temptation to change your evidence. This could give the defence a reason to appeal if his client is found guilty.

You are expected to take your seat behind the rail where the lawyers sit and you are expected to remain quiet. Any member of the public may listen to any case. Children are not generally allowed in courts except where they are witnesses in a case. All criminal cases are conducted publicly in open court. A sensitive matter might arise in a case that the judge will have to deal with in the presence of the accused and counsels for both sides. On these occasions members of the public are asked to leave the courtroom and the jury is escorted to the jury room.

The bailiff announces the entrance of the judge and everyone is asked to stand. The proceedings are presided over by one of the two resident judges. Sometime before the beginning of the Assizes a list of the cases would have been posted on the court’s notice board and the defendants would have been served their deposition, that is the record containing all the evidence of witnesses in the preliminary enquiry (this would have been conducted in the magistrate court prior to the trial). A notice of the opening of the assizes is also posted in one of the local newspapers.

Arraignment of the defendants/ accused – that is the proceeding where the accused is called upon to plead guilty or not guilty – takes place on the first day of the assizes. This is done in the absence of the jury. Those who plead guilty are sentenced immediately or at a later date. Those who plead not guilty are tried at a later date.

The case is called and the accused takes his place in the dock (seat for the accused). The Director of Public Prosecution representing the Crown sits at the front bar table and counsel for defence on the second row. The jurors are called one by one to take their seat facing the dock. Each juror swears (holding a Bible in the right hand) or affirms (raising the right arm) that he/she will try the case honestly and give a true verdict. Before each juror is sworn the accused has an opportunity to challenge, that is to refuse a juror. The accused and the Crown can challenge three jurors without showing cause (giving reasons). They must show cause if they wish to challenge more than three jurors. The prosecutor also has the right to ask a juror to “stand by” until the panel has been exhausted (all the jurors have been called).

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