All new jury trials in England and Wales will be postponed to ‘ensure social distancing’ amid coronavirus crisis but existing cases will carry on if safe to do so, Lord Chief Justice announces
- Jury trials in England and Wales will be put on hold to help prevent coronavirus
- Lord Chief Justice said no new trials will start and ongoing ones will be paused
- Lord Burnett has ‘decided that we need to pause jury trials for a short time’
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
All jury trials in England and Wales are to be put on hold as part of ongoing efforts to halt the spread of Covid-19.
In a statement on Monday, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, said no new trials will start and that ongoing trials will be paused while arrangements are put in place so they can continue safely.
Earlier in the week, Lord Burnett, the most senior judge in England and Wales, said no new trials expected to last three days or more would go ahead amid the deepening coronavirus crisis.
But, as pressure from members of the legal profession mounted on the Government to halt court hearings, the extraordinary step of suspending all new trials was taken.
Lord Burnett said: ‘As the Prime Minister has been telling the country, the spread of Covid-19 has continued to accelerate.
‘The clear message from Government is to take all precautions to avoid unnecessary contact.
All jury trials in England and Wales are to be put on hold as part of ongoing efforts to halt the spread of Covid-19 (pictured: Old Bailey, Central Criminal Court)
‘A review of the arrangements in our courts is called for.
‘I have decided that we need to pause jury trials for a short time to enable appropriate precautions to be put in place.’
Lord Burnett said arrangements have been made to conduct as many hearings as possible using telephone, video and other technology, and that HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is ‘working round the clock’ on these new measures.
But he said some hearings, ‘the most obvious being jury trials’, could not be carried out remotely.
He said: ‘My unequivocal position is that no jury trials or other physical hearings can take place unless it is safe for them to do so.
‘Today no new trials are to start. Jurors summoned for this week are to be released, if possible without entering the building, and told that they will be asked to return for trials where specific arrangements to ensure safety have been put in place.
‘All other hearings in the Crown Court that can lawfully take place remotely should do so.’
The judge said jury trials which have already started should continue if possible, with strict social distancing procedures ‘at all times and at all places within the court building’.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, said no new trials will start and that ongoing trials will be paused while arrangements are put in place so they can continue safely
He also said ongoing trials must be adjourned, if necessary, to allow these safety measures to be put in place.
Lord Burnett added: ‘Considerable imagination and flexibility may be needed to achieve that. This is already happening in some Crown Courts.
‘HMCTS will continue to work to ensure that safety measures are in place in all parts of the court building in which trials are already taking place.
‘The basic hygiene arrangements urged upon us by the Prime Minister must be available.
‘Resident judges, with their staff, will determine whether a trial can safely be continued.
‘If it is necessary to adjourn trials already under way for a short period to put those safety measures in place, this must be done.’
Lord Burnett said the same considerations will apply to Magistrates’ Courts, which will need to continue to deal with urgent work, and that hearings should take place remotely if the facilities exist.
Regarding the civil and family courts, where some hearings were held over Skype last week, he said physical hearings should only take place if a remote hearing is not possible and if suitable safety arrangements can be made.
Lord Burnett said the guidance would be updated as events continue to unfold.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded to a question about courts during a press briefing on Sunday, saying: ‘Firstly, on the courts quickly, many courts are already using video trials, using remote technology to do their business, but we are keeping that under constant review.’
Earlier on Sunday, Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive officer of HMCTS, referred to jurors being included in the list of key workers published at the end of last week in response to a query on Twitter.
She added that advice to jurors was: ‘Don’t come if you are vulnerable, or showing symptoms. But otherwise, do come – because justice is not optional.’
But a number of members of the legal profession said the courts should not keep running amid the crisis.
Joanna Hardy, a criminal barrister at Red Lion Chambers tweeted: ‘Put simply – jury trials involve people coming to court.
‘And, for the moment, the assembly of groups of people should be stopped because people are dying.
‘That isn’t a value comparison between justice and death. It’s a pause. To take stock. To work out what we do next.’
Mukul Chawla QC, a partner at BCLP Law and former criminal barrister, tweeted: ‘After today’s PM briefing and the fundamental importance of social distancing, it is simply unfathomable that the courts are still requiring jurors to attend court.
‘They should be told in clear and uncertain terms to stay at home.’
Augusta Itua, who works with legal charity Just for Kids Law, said on Twitter that ‘closing courts is a public health imperative’.
On Friday, the Young Legal Aid Lawyers group released a statement calling for immediate action to protect junior legal aid lawyers including ‘immediately (ceasing) all in-person court hearings’.
The group added: ‘Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a serious impact on vulnerable people who desperately need legal advice and representation at this time.’
In a message to the judiciary on Thursday, Lord Burnett said the ‘default position’ in all courts must be that hearings should continue with one or more participants ‘attending remotely’ – either by Skype, video link or telephone.
He also said the Covid-19 pandemic will ‘at the best … suppress the normal functioning of society for many months’.
EXCLUSIVE: Britain’s courts are potential hotbeds for coronavirus because staff fail to enforce social distancing and ‘woeful’ technology means video-link hearings can’t go ahead, senior judge warns
By Jack Elsom for MailOnline
Britain’s courts are not enforcing social distancing and are potential coronavirus contamination hotbeds, a senior judge has told MailOnline.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the seasoned county court judge described hearings where litigants were squeezed around tables in breach of the government’s two-metre proximity guidance.
A ‘woeful’ technology outfit in most civil courts means in many cases video-link hearings are not possible.
They also claimed that the roughly 200 people who troop into the court building daily are not asked if they are ill.
The Ministry of Justice insisted it has ramped up its court cleaning operation, but the judge claimed, in their court, people were not even being offered any hand sanitizer.
The judge lamented the ‘disconnect’ between those steering the court’s response to the health emergency, who ‘do not understand what is going on down at the coalface’.
A ‘woeful’ technology outfit in most civil courts means in many cases video-link hearings are not possible (pictured: Westminster Magistrates Court)
They told MailOnline: ‘We have nobody at the door asking if people are ill. There are waiting rooms where we have no control over the number of people.
‘It’s open justice, so anyone can come into the court.’
They added: ‘I feel much safer than most because judges have their own entrances, but even so I’m passed grubby bits of paper and I don’t know where it’s been.’
Some ‘proper’ court rooms allowed for more space between judges, lawyers and litigants, but the judge described hearings cramped in small rooms where it was impossible to move further apart.
The warning came as Boris Johnson doubled down his calls for social distancing and cautioned not doing so would overwhelm the NHS, which creaking under the pressure of accelerating cases.
High courts and criminal courts are moving to conducting cases via video-link where possible.
However, the judge ruled this out because ‘our technology is woefully inadequate to use it.’
In any instance, they said ‘you can’t really do a three or four hour hearing on Skype’.
The judge recommended postponing non-urgent cases until the pandemic is wrestled under control.
They said they had raised their contamination concerns to the court manager, who had passed it higher up the chain of command.
The warning came as Boris Johnson doubled down his calls for social distancing and cautioned not doing so would overwhelm the NHS, which creaking under the pressure of accelerating cases (PM pictured during an update meeting in the Cabinet room yesterday)
But they claimed worries had not been acted upon from those in the court service who are not wise to the true situation in the courts.
They said: ‘The nub is that nobody really understands what’s going on down at the coalface’.
Court business is also threatening to grind to a halt, with bailiffs reluctant to go out on eviction jobs for fear of contamination, they said.
A HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson said: ‘We are minimising the risk to everyone in our courts by stopping non-urgent work and increasing telephone and online hearings.
‘The situation is under constant review and we are hugely grateful to all those working hard to keep our justice system running.’
A source told MailOnline that certain hearings were being prioritised, while the use of technology was being encouraged.
A spokesman for the Lord Chief Justice said: ‘The Lord Chief Justice and the senior judiciary have been balancing the need for justice to continue with the need to keep people safe.
‘As the pandemic has quickly developed over recent days they will continue to review advice as the situation changes.
‘As the advice to judges on the judiciary website makes clear, judges are being told to be flexible and innovative with technology of all kinds.’
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