All jury trials suspended to await new safety measures
All jury trials in England and Wales have been suspended as part of the ongoing effort to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, announced no new trials will start and ongoing trials will be paused while arrangements are put in place to allow them to continue safely.
Lord Burnett had previously said that no new trials expected to last three days or more would go ahead, but mounting pressure from members of the legal profession has led to further action being taken.
In a statement he 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 have been made to conduct as many hearings as possible using telephone, video and other technology, and that HM Courts and Tribunals Service was “working round the clock” on these new measures. However, such arrangements are not possible for jury trials.
Lord Burnett added: “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.”
Under the new guidance, jury trials that have already started will continue if possible, with strict social distancing procedures “at all times and at all places within the court building”, but if such safety measures are not available, ongoing trials must be adjourned to allow them to be put in place.
“The basic hygiene arrangements urged upon us by the Prime Minister must be available,” said Lord Burnett. “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.”
The same considerations will apply to magistrates’ courts that need to continue to deal with urgent work, and that hearings should take place remotely if the facilities exist.