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25 March 2021
Traditionally, in order for persons involved in litigation in the Supreme Court to participate in such proceedings – whether as a claimant, a defendant or even a witness – they had to be present in the court. At times, this strict requirement of personal presence served as a barrier to the ultimate goal of resolving disputes through litigation where persons involved therein were unable to attend the trial in person. A person's inability to attend a trial may be due to illness, travel restrictions (particularly pertinent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic), visa requirements, fear of arrest or persecution, fear of harm or high costs associated with participation in litigation, among other things.
Notably, the Civil Procedure Rules 2005 permit the use of a video link as a means of promoting access to justice. While the general rule is that any fact which must be proved by the evidence of a witness must be proved "at trial" and "by oral evidence given in public", the rules empower the Supreme Court to "allow a witness to give evidence without being present in the courtroom, through a videolink or by any other means". The rules contemplate the use of not only a video link, but also "any other means", which arguably includes other forms of communication as effective as a video link.
A vital component of the operation of the rule permitting the use of a video link is the availability of video-link facilities. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has video-link facilities. The Supreme Court used a video link in a case where the claimant was a Belizean company whose director and sole witness resided abroad. The director was suing a government minister who had allegedly made threats against him if he came to Belize to testify. In another case, a Russian national could not get a visa in time to be present in Belize; the parties therefore agreed to use a video link and the witness, located in Moscow, was cross-examined by attorneys at the court in Belize City.
The Caribbean Court of Justice frequently convenes hearings by way of a video link with the judges sitting in Trinidad and Tobago and the parties and their attorneys present in Belize. In the above cases, the court convened and was able to conduct the hearing efficiently and effectively. On the whole, the Belize Supreme Court has proven its readiness to grant videoconferencing orders in civil proceedings where the justice of the case requires such an order.
For further information on this topic please contact Eamon Harrison Courtenay at Courtenay Coye & Co by telephone (+1 501 223 1476) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Courtenay Coye & Co website can be accessed at www.courtenaycoye.com.
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