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Jury trials on hold due to coronavirus fears

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Jurors summoned for this week told to remain at home

All jury trials have been temporarily suspended in England and Wales as part of the ongoing efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus, the Lord Chief Justice (LCJ) has announced.

The most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon, confirmed this morning that no new trials will start and that ongoing trials will be suspended while arrangements are put in place to ensure they proceed safely.

“My unequivocal position is that no jury trials or other physical hearings can take place unless it is safe for them to do so,” Burnett said in a statement. “A particular concern is to ensure social distancing in court and in the court building.”

He continued:

“Jurors summoned for this week are being contacted to ask them to remain at home, and contact the court they are due to attend. They will only be asked to come in for trials where specific arrangements to ensure safety have been put in place. In some cases, this may mean that jurors may be called in to start a new trial later on Monday.”

Burnett said all hearings in the Crown Court that can lawfully take place remotely should do so and other hearings not involving a jury should continue “if suitable arrangements can be made to ensure distancing”.

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Magistrates’ Courts will continue to handle urgent work, the LCJ said, “in accordance with guidance given by the judiciary to judges and staff”. All hearings should take place remotely if the facilities exist, he added.

Turning to the civil and family courts, Burnett confirmed hearings requiring the attendance of parties and lawyers should only take place if a remote hearing is not possible and if suitable arrangements can be made to ensure safety.

This morning’s updated guidance comes after lawyers publicly slammed the government’s decision to keep the courts operating more or less as normal amid the virus pandemic.

“Jury assembly rooms are a mix of lots of people”, Red Lion Chambers barrister Joanna Hardy tweeted over the weekend. “Everyone comes through the same security door, same security guards, same hands, same security trays. Jury boxes are small… We’ll regret it. I do not understand it.”

Echoing her concerns, Max Hardy, a criminal barrister at 9 Bedford Row, wrote: “There is absolutely no scientific or medical evidence that convening a large number of people in the confines of a courtroom is safe. And if we lawyers can’t work to evidence then what is the point of us? Justice is important. Life is more important.”

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