Crown Court Recovery Update – 27.08.20

Many of you are anxious about how the Crown Court Recovery plan is being addressed.

HMCTS have just put up on their website, a link to where we are presently and the aspirations.

There has been an enormous amount of work, involving a large number of agencies. The imperative is to ensure trials are up and running along with the associated preparatory hearings. Topics covered include S28 hearings, increased court capacity, screens in courts and portacabins etc. As an update it is welcome, but there is more to do and this is correctly acknowledged. We all have individual views as to some of the ideas being tried, but we are beginning to nudge forward. We hope to provide more detail after further meetings. We can’t describe it as “light at the end of the tunnel” but it is a beginning.

The blog is helpful by way of facts and figures.

Click on this link for the update but we have set it out in any event so that you can read it.

Next steps towards recovery in the Crown Court:

Posted by: Gemma Hewison, Posted on: 27th August 2020 – Categories: Crime

“We’ve talked about the challenges of Recovery in the Crown Courts from COVID-19 in a blog by our chief executive posted on 9 July. I want to provide more details about what those steps towards recovery will look like in the crime jurisdiction and highlight some of the collaborative work that has been going on with our justice partners to get us to the current position.

The progress that we’ve made so far in recovering the work of the criminal courts is a testament to the tireless work and invaluable contributions of a number of working groups, many brought together as part of our COVID-19 response. Huge thanks, in particular, go to the Criminal Bar Association, Bar Council, The Law Society, Crown Prosecution Service and the police who have been so influential in developing these critical recovery plans.

Progress so far:

We are rightly proud of the significant progress made in the criminal courts since the start of the pandemic, with over 1,500 cases being dealt with each week, many adapting and using technology in innovative ways.

Since May, when jury trials resumed, more than 690 jury trials have been listed and disposed of. From this week, jury trials will be taking place in 66 Crown Court buildings and two Nightingale Courts (Prospero House and Swansea Civic Centre); 93 courtrooms are available for jury trials and we expect this to increase to 100 usable jury trial rooms by the end of August.

Where court rooms haven’t been suitable to hold jury trials, appeals, sentencing, confiscation and other work such as Section 28 hearings, have continued to take place. However, we know there is more to do, and we will have to use every lever available to us, to make sure that defendants, complainants and witnesses aren’t left in unending delay.

Increasing jury trial capacity:

As some of you working in different courts around the country may already have seen, we’re increasing capacity by installing Plexiglass screens and modular units (Portakabins) to help address the current social distancing requirements.

So far, we’ve identified almost 200 courtrooms and 59 retiring rooms which would benefit from screens. Those for juries have already been installed in one courtroom in Leeds and three in Liverpool and an ambitious rolling programme of works is underway.

By the end of October, we expect to have rapidly increased capacity, thanks to installation of the screens in around 250 court and retiring rooms.

We’re considering where we should prioritise Portakabin units. These insulated units with running water offer suitable facilities for jury deliberating rooms and so have the potential to reduce pressure on court building facilities and in some cases free up courtrooms currently already being used for that purpose.

Supporting victims and witnesses:

As we have reconfigured some courts to meet the current safety requirements, we’ll re-evaluate all special measures already granted to vulnerable or intimidated witnesses to make sure they are still workable, for example, the use of screens as previously intended.

We’re also extending the s.28 scheme to 16 additional Crown Courts from this week. Some courtrooms that may not yet be able to accommodate trials may be able to hear s.28 cases, due to the reduction in number of participants required to be physically present in the courtroom.

We’ll continue to work alongside the judiciary to prioritise and support trials involving youth defendants.

COVID-19 operating hours:

In her blog, our chief executive made clear that COVID-19 operating hours are a measure to deal with the current unprecedented circumstances and that our modelling shows that unless we make use all the levers available to us, we will not be able to recover, nor to meet the standards that those who use the justice system rightly expect.

The approach being tested in the Crown court, starting at Liverpool Crown Court last week, involves a minimum of two court rooms operating jury trials in the same court centre. In one courtroom, two lists will operate: one in the morning and a second list in the afternoon, Monday to Friday. Alongside this, a ‘standard hours’ court will operate. This will ensure that if, for any reason, a case is unsuitable for the earlier or later session court, it can still be listed in the usual way.

We recognise that changing operating hours will impact court users as well as our staff. It’s critical that we consider and review the differing impacts, including for vulnerable court users and those with caring responsibilities, as well as whether the predicted level of benefit is achieved.

Continuing the journey:

Like many organisations around the world, HMCTS is having to adapt because of the pandemic – exploring and pursuing innovative and sometimes radical ways forward to meet the demands of extremely challenging times.

The progress we’ve made and the insight we’ve gained are thanks to the collective effort and will of those whose steadfast contributions have helped to put us on the road to recovery.

But we will not be complacent. We know there’s much more to do, and many challenges still to overcome, on the way to full recovery. I can assure you that we’ll continue to listen to your views and ideas, and learn from your experiences as we build on those plans together.

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