As Trinidad and Tobago implements measures to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, the legal sector has had to make drastic adjustments to the way business is conducted.
Many attorneys-at-law are moving to working remotely or significantly less time in their offices.
Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago
The Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago has also implemented emergency practice directions for the operations of the court in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 Emergency Directions
By Gazette Notice No. 30 of 2020, the practice direction provided for measures to be implemented with immediate effect from the 16th March 2020 to the 17th April, 2020. The practice direction was revised and replaced by a further practice direction published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette No. 31 of 2020. These were further revised and replaced by directions published in the Trinidad & Tobago Gazette No. 46 Volume 59 dated 6th April, 2020. This was again revised on 27th April, 2020 in published in the Trinidad & Tobago Gazette No. 57 Volume 59. A further revision was made on 15 May, 2020 in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette No. 71 Volume 59.
The directions stipulate certain matters that are deemed ‘fit for hearing’, including bail, terrorism offences and applications, habeas corpus, mental health applications, domestic violence, maintenance and certain part-heard criminal matters.
The time for filing pursuant to directions of the court (unless deemed for for hearing or otherwise urgent such as the imminent expiration of the limitation period) will also be frozen until June 15, 2020.
Attorneys-at-law may nevertheless make applications to the court for matters to be deemed ‘fit for hearing’ in urgent cases.
The revised practice direction further suspended all filing of documents, save an except for urgent matters.
The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago advised on 19th march, 2020, that after discussions with the Supreme Court, the Association has been informed that matters that are becoming statute barred under the Limitation of Certain Actions Act Chapter 7:09 may be filed at the respective Registries during ‘this period’ (16th March, 2020 to the 17th April, 2020 inclusive) but must be accompanied by a Certificate of Urgency.
Court operations during COVID-19
On April 2, 2020, the Judiciary issued advice to the public on its efforts in light of the Government’s ‘stay-at-home’ regulations.
Hearings by Electronic Means
The Court later issued a Practice Direction on Hearings by Electronic Means which was published in the Trinidad & Tobago Gazette Vol. 59 No. 41 of 2020 and dated 27 March, 2020.
This practice direction appears to be tailored not only for the COVID-19 pandemic but for the future of the delivery and administration of justice in Trinidad and Tobago.Court Operations during COVID-19
Filing by Electronic Means
On April 2, 2020, the Court amended the Civil Proceedings Rules (Legal Notice No. 67 of 2020) and issued a Practice Direction in relation to the filing of documents by electronic means (Gazette No. 44 of 2020).
Further, on April 3, 2020, the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago issued a note to all attorneys-at-law about the Judiciary’s e-filing platform:
Further to the contents of the attached documents, the Judiciary’s e-filing platform can be accessed by typing https://eservices.ttlawcourts.org/filing into the address bar of your browser on your computer or smartphone. The Judiciary informs that in relation to the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago, the first phase of the e-filing platform permits filings under the Civil Proceedings Rules 1998 (as amended).
Members are asked by the Judiciary to understand that in order to protect everyone, at this time the default position must be e-filing. You are also asked by the Judiciary to limit your filings to only urgent matters or matters deemed fit for hearing during the period covered by the Practice Direction on the COVID-19 Emergency Directions.
Members are therefore encouraged to carefully read the contents of the attachments in conjunction with previous Practice Directions and the CPR 1998 (as amended).
On April 6, 2020, the Judiciary issued directions for filing by electronic means in the Criminal Division and Criminal District and Traffic Courts published in the Trinidad & Tobago Gazette No. 46 Volume 59 dated 6th April, 2020.
On April 7, 2020, amendments were made to the Family Proceedings Rules and practice directions were made in respect of filing by electronic means in the Family Court.
Similar provisions were also made on April 7, 2020 amending the Children Court Rules and the issuance of practice directions for filing by electronic means in the Children’s Court.
Proceedings at the Industrial Court
The Industrial Court also issued a practice direction in Gazette No. 31 of 2020.
Equal Opportunity Tribunal
Meanwhile, the Equal Opportunity Tribunal has also provided guidance as to its operations during the Government’s recommendations on COVID-19.
The Tribunal later issued a practice direction in the Gazette No. 32 of 2020.
The Environmental Commission also issued its COVID-19 strategy on March 17th, 2020.
Tax Appeal Board
Similarly, the Tax Appeal Board issued emergency directions, inter alia extending time to April 20, 2020. These directions were officially published in the Gazette No. 33 of 2020.
On March 19, 2020, the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs issued a media release as to the operations at the Registrar General’s Department, Intellectual Property Office and Solicitor General’s Department.
On March 28, 2020, the Intellectual Property Office issued a note to the public and a further practice direction for operations during the Government’s ‘stay-at-home’ regulations.
Please be advised, the Intellectual Property Office of Trinidad and Tobago would be closed until April 15th, 2020. However, all of our services would be accessible on our website at http://ipo.gov.tt and the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs website at http://agla.gov.tt via the online services portal.
The guidelines issued by all agencies are aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 by reducing staff and operating in a limited capacity.
This page will provide further updates on any provisions related to the legal sector and the administration of justice in Trinidad and Tobago.
Last updated May 16, 2020.