Derby Telegraph: Open justice sees defendants sentenced over Skype at home

Posted on: April 14, 2020 by Claire Meadows

The Derby Telegraph has highlighted how open justice is working during the Covid-19 emergency with some defendants sentenced over Skype while sitting in their own homes.

The cases, highlighted by court reporter Martin Naylor, reveal work to maintain open justice during the coronavirus pandemic where defendants, court officials and journalists are forced to stay at home and use video technology.

Writing in a column in the Derby Telegraph, Naylor said that the way justice is being served in Derby “is both brilliant and fascinating”.

Many hearings are now taking place over Skype, Naylor confirmed, and while a Judge presided over the case via video-link from Derby Crown Court, lawyers, defendants and journalists are now being given a link from a listing officer in order to access proceedings from their offices and homes. 

Many of the defendants are taking part via video-link from prisons while in custody, however Naylor highlighted two cases, where, like him, the defendants skyped into the proceedings from their own homes.

He said: One of the most remarkable aspects of how this is working and a first for me this week were two cases whereby the defendants themselves were both sentenced over Skype not via videolink from custody.

“Instead, they too clicked on the link emailed to them and heard their own cases from the comfort of their own homes.

“So while I am afforded a tiny window into the home lives of the professionals who I would normally meet each day, me in a suit and they in their wigs and gowns, via cameras on the top of our laptops, I am also visiting the flats and houses of the defendants through the same technology.”

The use of video technology in courts across the country has risen by 800% in two weeks confirmed HMCTS last week. The Justice Secretary also confirmed that jury trials continue to be halted while the Ministry of Justice looks for ways to bring them ‘back into action’ amid social distancing guidelines and the spread of Covid-19.

While the cases being heard online are a fraction of what would normally happen on a busy day at Derby Crown Court, Naylor said, efforts to maintain open justice in Derby were ongoing.

He added: “Jury trials are currently on hold and those I have seen pleading not guilty are having their trials set to much later this year and even then none of us know if those dates will be set in stone.”

Praising court staff, he said that the way justice is being served in Derby is fascinating.

He added: “I would like to add that I could not do this without the help from all involved at the court who have bent over backwards to help me and whose thanks I give.

“And as justice is meted out during this strange time we are living through, I find this both brilliant and utterly fascinating.”