03:37, March 23 33 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-23 03:37:04
Jury trials on hold in England and Wales due to coronavirus fears

All jury trials in England and Wales will be put on hold as part of the 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 were put in place so they can continue safely.

Pressure had been growing on the Ministry of Justice to limit criminal court hearings to urgent cases only as restrictions on social gatherings and movement become tougher.

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.

“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 had been made to conduct as many hearings as possible using telephone, video and other technology, and that the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) was “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.

Quick guide

What to do if you have coronavirus symptoms in the UK

Symptoms are defined as either:

  • a high temperature - you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new continuous cough - this means you've started coughing repeatedly

NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. But, if anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means they're at home for longer than 14 days.

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine.

If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.

If you still have a cough after 7 days, but your temperature is normal, you do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

Source: NHS England on 18 March 2020

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 that have already started should continue if possible, with strict social distancing procedures “at all times and at all places within the court building”.

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 was not possible and if suitable safety arrangements coud be made.

Lord Burnett said the guidance would be updated as events continued to unfold.

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