Small number of jury trials to start with social distancing measures
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A number of jury trials are set to commence under special arrangements from next week as part of measures to ease lockdown restrictions.
The first courts to swear in new juries will include the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey and Cardiff Crown Court, while other courts around the country will be assessed with the aim of gradually increasing cases.
All new trials were suspended on March 23 due to restrictions caused by coronavirus.
On April 24, the Jury Trials Working Group was established to find ways for a small number of jury trials to commence safely.
This week, following talks with the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon, decided new jury trials could start in a few courts from May 18 in line with Public Health guidelines.
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Lord Burnett said: “It is important that the administration of justice continues to function whenever it is possible in an environment which is consistent with the safety of those involved.”
Meanwhile, the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland said: “I am pleased that the courts are now in a position, with approval from Public Health England and Public Health Wales, to take some first steps towards the resumption of jury trials.
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“A limited number of trials will take place, conducted safely and observing social distancing rules, at courts including the Old Bailey in London and at Cardiff Crown Court. These will also help us to understand how it might be possible to conduct trials more widely as the situation with coronavirus develops.”
Arrangements for distancing to be maintained include providing a second courtroom, linked by a screen, to enable reporters and others to watch proceedings, and another courtroom to use for jury deliberations.
The Ministry of Justice said about 90% of hearings across all jurisdictions over the last month had utilised audio and video equipment.
Ipswich Crown Court has dealt with a range of work other than trials, including remotely conducted pre-trial preparation hearings, further case management, sentencing hearings and urgent applications for bail and to extend custody time limits.
Meanwhile, Suffolk Magistrates’ Court was among priority court and tribunal buildings to remain open for essential face-to-face hearings.