12:06, March 18 216 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-18 12:06:04
A quarter of criminal trials in England and Wales will be disrupted

A quarter of crown court trials will be disrupted due to restrictions unveiled overnight by the most senior judge in England and Wales to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the justice secretary has said.

The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, announced late on Tuesday that trials expected to last more than three days will be postponed at least until after the end of April.

Up until Tuesday, the Ministry of Justice had merely recommended that jurors feeling ill should stay away from court and that wherever possible more use should be made of remote video-links for evidence to be given. But pressure for action had been growing as large sections of the economy move towards working from home.

Addressing the changes on Wednesday, Robert Buckland, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, backed the move and said arrangements were being made to extend custody time limits for defendants held on remand.

Buckland said: “With staff absences and courts already impacted, we have to prioritise which types of hearing take precedence. We also need to avoid the disruption that can result from juries being unable to see out the trials they are required to participate in.”

Shorter court hearings, such as preparatory hearings, are to be conducted with some or all of the participants attending by telephone, video link or online, to allow as many as possible to take the place, Buckland said.

“These changes will be temporary and we estimate that three-quarters of crown court trials will be able to continue despite this restriction,” he said.