Jury trials will restart from next Monday (May 18) in a few courts including the Old Bailey, the Lord Chief Justice has announced today.
Arrangements are said to be made to ensure appropriate social distancing to be maintained at all times, including providing a second courtroom linked by video to allow reporters and others to view the proceedings.
The Lord Chief Justice added that trials will be conducted under the same legal standards and procedures as before the Covid-19 outbreak and will remain with 12 jurors.
While many ongoing hearings took place remotely during the outbreak, jury trials have been suspended since March 23 due to the coronavirus. Since then, a judiciary working group chaired by Mr Justice Edis has been established to find ways in which a small number of jury trials may recommence safely.
The first courts in which new juries can be sworn include the Central Criminal Court in London’s Old Bailey and Cardiff Crown Court. The judiciary expect only small numbers of trials to take place initially, with further courts around the country to be assessed so that cases can be increased gradually when it is safe to do so.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said: “It is important that the administration of justice continues to function whenever it is possible in an environment which is consistent with the safety of all those involved.”
The Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “Any person who plays a part in a criminal trial – including victims, witnesses, jurors, and legal professionals – is making a huge contribution to society that is rightly recognised as an essential reason to leave their home. They have our gratitude and they deserve our protection – and measures are being put in place to support everyone who comes to court, in whatever capacity, to do so without putting themselves at unnecessary risk.”
Commenting on the move on twitter, the Evening Standard’s courts correspondent Tristan Kirk said questions remained over how journalists will interact with the new proceedings, such as whether remote links for journalists from home would be permitted – as was the case for pre-trial hearings which have been ongoing.
The announcement comes as it was reported in The Times today that there is a backlog of more than 37,000 cases prior to the pandemic.