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CBA Statement: Safety at the Heart of all Considerations

Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said:

“Judges across the country rightly want to get back safely to the Crown Court, so they can preside over jury trials and preliminary administrative hearings in as timely a manner as possible,  something that the courts were prevented from doing, due to cuts to court budgets leading up to the suspension of trials.

The CBA has made safety, a priority consideration for all concerned and they will be surveying their members with a view to creating a practicable protocol that can be adopted by the courts. The careful work of the judiciary in co-ordination with HMCTS, Public Health England  and Public Health Wales, as to how they can begin to resume a limited number of physical Crown Court hearings over the coming weeks, must have safety at the heart of it for all court users, including jurors, witnesses – and of course the criminal bar – let us not forget them.

The criminal bar knows that neither the judiciary, nor the CPS, nor HMCTS, would wish to place anyone at risk, but they need to have clear and consistent messaging which indicates that safety checks meet the requisite standards, and that social distancing can be maintained.

As regards the resumption of trials, the Criminal Bar Association will be taking its next cue from the judicial committee chaired by Mr Justice Edis, which remains underway, and will ensure that HMCTS can oversee the safe commencement of a limited and managed reopening of the Crown Court in respect of jury trials.

The future success of a wider re-opening of the Crown Court will depend on this committee co-ordinating the right detail for all participants in the justice system. This will include full co-ordination from HMCTS through to local courts and practice. We at the CBA will continue to play an active and constructive role. It is vital and not to be underestimated that safety is secured for everyone, from jurors, counsel and the bench, to witnesses, the public and media who need to attend, so that justice can be delivered with full transparency.

The judiciary has safety front and square in mind when examining how to re-open their local courts for the physical attendance of participants. The judiciary are as frustrated as the Criminal Bar Association, that more trials which were listed for commencement in 2019 were vacated than those which completed, following a slashing to the Crown Court budget. Thousands more trials were repeatedly bumped from lists. The Crown Court backlog had arisen months before Covid19 reared its head.

With a total Crown Court case load of over 107,000 cases last year, the Criminal Bar shares the judiciary’s concerns as to how to address the growing backlog safely, so that the hundreds of thousands of people involved in cases left in limbo, are not left waiting in uncertainty any longer.”

This morning the Lord Chief Justice announced a return to new jury trials from 18th May and under special arrangements to maintain safely. Read the full announcement here.

A statement by the Lord Chancellor can be read here.

The CBA Monday Message and a further Survey on Health & Safely concerns will be released later today.

Stay safe!

Best wishes,

Caroline Goodwin QC.
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