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Proceedings in the High Court

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Some time ago we looked at proceedings in a criminal trial in the High Court. At this time, when all eyes are turned towards the High Court, I will explain how a criminal trial is conducted. It must be remembered that criminal matters that are dealt with in the High Court are initiated in the Magistrate’s Court, whether it is the Serious Offence Court or the Family Court or a District Magistrate’s Court, unlike civil matters.{{more}} Matters such as burglary, robbery, murder, wounding and any serious offence must first be dealt with at a preliminary enquiry, where the Magistrate determines whether there is sufficient evidence for the matter to go on to the High Court

Preliminary Enquiry

In the preliminary enquiry, the accused is not called upon to plead. In other words, he does not have to say that he is guilty or not guilty. Prior to this, the Police would have located the witnesses and they would have been given the opportunity to make statements regarding what they saw at the crime scene. The next stage is to give the evidence at the Magistrate’s Court in a Preliminary Enquiry. After all the witnesses have given their evidence, the Magistrate would decide whether there is sufficient evidence to send the case to the High Court. The same witnesses would be called upon to give the evidence verbally at the trial in the High Court.

The High Court

In the High Court the evidence is heard by a judge and jury. The witnesses for the State are examined by the prosecutor and cross-examined by counsel for the defence. Witnesses brought on behalf of the accused are examined by defence counsel and cross- examined by the prosecutor. The jury listens to the evidence and must determine the case on the evidence given in court. Jurors are required to deliberate on evidence given in court and not refer to information given in the newspaper, radio or television. So a juror has to be alert and must stay awake during the course of the trial.. The jury is known as the arbiter of facts while the judge is the arbiter of the law. Laws pertaining to criminal offences are given in the Criminal Code, Chapter 124 of the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (the Blue Book Volumes) and the procedure that the Court must follow are given in The Criminal Procedure Act, Chapter 125 of the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The judge must also rely on case laws contained in cases that have become precedent on various points of law.

Voir dire

The prosecution first has the opportunity to examine the witness and he must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the offence. During the course or the trial, an issue may present itself where if discussed in the presence of the jury might be prejudicial to the accused. The Court will conduct what is called a voir dire According to Black’s Dictionary the pronunciation is “vwahr deer” or “vor deer”. French in origin, the words mean to test the truth. Under our laws, an examination of the evidence takes place to decide whether the evidence is admissible. Both sides would put forth argument and make submissions. The judge would take account of the submissions from both sides and on the basis of the law decide whether the evidence is admissible. If he considers the evidence inadmissible, then evidence cannot be used in the case. This might have significant impact on the case if the prosecution was depending on the evidence to prove his case. If the matter is admissible, then it accepted as evidence in the case.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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