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Restarting Jury Trials: Safety 

In a time where we are all facing considerable challenges there is a need to keep safety as the number one priority. We recognise that practitioners will be experiencing financial pressure and other difficulties associated with the enforced lockdown, but when entering buildings in order to conduct business it is essential that they are safe.

The very slow start to jury trials, is slow and restrained for good reason. The entire process from assessment of the buildings to the physical application of any protocol requires time and detail. This cannot be rushed. The CBA has engaged in a process to look and examine the particular journey maps of the individuals who would be involved in the court process from Jurors, witnesses, counsel, defendant, security, probation, CPS, support staff et al. The task of reopening the courts has many constituent parts and our role has been focused in relaying our day to day experience. But we are not public health experts.

We have constantly urged for greater transparency and communication with the profession during this process and that has now started to improve as we begin to address the very slow and measured move to re-examine jury trials in this sensitive period.

What we cannot and do not do is assume responsibility for the safety of the court buildings. That remains the responsibility of HMCTS, as it always has been. We are not public health professionals and can only pass on at face value what we are told by those who are.

The jury trials section of HMCTS Courts and Tribunals Planning published on 15th May  includes reference to approved criteria:

“The decision to allow new jury trials to start again follows a rigorous assessment of potential Crown court locations overseen by a working group chaired by Mr Justice Edis and includes representatives of the legal profession and criminal justice partners such as the police and Crown Prosecution Service.

Each Crown court has had to meet clear standards and criteria approved by public health bodies. Officials from Public Health England and Public Health Wales have attended physical inspections of the Old Bailey and Cardiff Crown Court respectively to ensure the appropriate application of these criteria. Any further Crown court selected to hold jury trials in the future will need to meet these standards.”

A public statement is incorporated in the booklet from HMCTS “Our commitment to running jury trials safely Endorsed by Public Health England and Public Health Wales”

It states in terms:

“Joint statement from Public Heath England and Public Heath Wales 
Public Health England and Public Health Wales have worked closely with HMCTS as part of its work to ensure Crown Courts’ readiness for jury trials, and assessed arrangements that have been made to secure the health and safety of all those concerned.

Our involvement has included visits to Cardiff Crown Court and the Old Bailey to review the practical application of these arrangements, and we can confirm that we are content that, where these arrangements are put in place, new jury trials can begin safely”

Some of you may feel that the steps taken do not reduce the risk enough for you to attend court for in-person hearings and trials. We understand your concern and we will continue to push for improvements. However, if you choose not to attend Court for a hearing due to legitimate concerns for your health and safety, then you will have the support of the CBA.

We are aware of ongoing problems in the Magistrates’ Court and urgent steps are being taken to address those issues with HMCTS and the senior judiciary. A report will be published later this week.

Stay safe!

Best wishes,

Caroline Goodwin QC

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