Four Crown Courts have been assessed as currently suitable to hold jury trials and will begin to do so from next week. They are:
- Central Criminal Court, London (Old Bailey)
- Bristol Crown Court
- Cardiff Crown Court
- Manchester (Minshull Street)
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the safety of all who use the court and tribunal buildings has been a key priority for HMCTS and the Law Society.
Over the past few weeks a jury trial working group, chaired by Mr Justice Edis, has been working to consider ways to safely re-start some jury trials in England and Wales.
Co-chair of our Criminal Law Committee, Ian Kelcey, who was part of this working group states:
"An immense amount of work has been put into getting a very limited number of courts into a position where they can hold jury trials. Safety has been the paramount consideration. This is a small step in what will undoubtedly be a long journey to return to where we were before the epidemic".
Safety measures in Crown Court Jury trials
Jury trials present a unique and complex set of circumstances which have been particularly challenging to manage within the terms of the current restrictions. This is why it has taken some time since the Lord Chief Justice announced that jury trials would be paused from 23 March, to establish safe conditions in which trials can take place.
HMCTS state they now have a robust assurance process including a bespoke tool to assess Crown Courts' readiness to resume jury trials. The tool has undergone comprehensive safety assurance by Public Health England and Public Health Wales, who had attended inspections at Cardiff Crown Court and the Central Criminal Court in London, to review its practical application.
They have provided the following joint statement:
"Public Health England and Public Health Wales have worked closely with HMCTS as part of its work to ensure the 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."
Based on this advice, resident judges at the four courts have agreed that jury trials can now take place at their courts.
HMCTS expect the next three courts to be suitable will be:
- Reading Crown Court
- Warwick Crown Court
- Winchester Crown Court
HMCTS appreciates that these are small and early steps to begin new trials and they assure us that they will keep all issues under constant review.
Jury trials right to resume if safety allows
We welcomed the plans to resume jury trials, announced this month by the Lord Chancellor, but reiterated the utmost importance of safety.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society, said:
"With efforts to maintain good hygiene, appropriate distancing, and compliance with all other relevant guidance - jury trials should be resuming as soon as it is safe to do so.
"The priority in the coming weeks must be to carefully balance access to justice with the safety of judges, lawyers, jurors, the parties and court users – without compromising on justice."
We would encourage practitioners to report any poor practice they see on the ground via this reporting form.