We are currently experiencing network problems with the desktop version of Police Oracle. We hope to have these resolved as soon as possible.

All long new trials to be halted at justice system rethinks response

New Bill will also give police and Border Force new powers to protect public health

Criminal trials are to be put on hold as part of the ongoing efforts to delay the spread of coronavirus.

In a statement issued late on Tuesday, it was announced that the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett - the most senior judge in England and Wales - has decided no new trial should start in any Crown Court unless it is expected to last for three days or fewer.

As a result, cases longer than three days that were due to start before the end of April will be postponed.

In other developments police will be given powers to arrest and isolate people to protect public health, under emergency coronavirus legislation set out by the Government.

The Emergency Coronavirus Bill - to be tabled in Parliament on Thursday - will give ministers the powers they say they need to respond to the threat of the virus and support the NHS.

They include allowing the Border Force to suspend operations at airports or transport hubs if there are insufficient resources to ensure security, and the greater use of video hearings in court cases.

The announcement on jury trials came after pressure mounted on the Government to make clear its strategy for courts, amid growing concerns about the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on court business.

The statement said the impact of the public health emergency on the operation of the courts has been under "constant review", and that criminal trials pose "particular problems in a fast-moving situation" because of the involvement of many participants including the judge, jurors, defendants, lawyers, witnesses and court staff.

The statement read: "Given the risks of a trial not being able to complete, the Lord Chief Justice has decided that no new trial should start in the Crown Court unless it is expected to last for three days or less.

"All cases estimated to last longer than three days listed to start before the end of April 2020 will be adjourned.

"These cases will be kept under review and the position regarding short trials will be revisited as circumstances develop and in any event next week.

"As events unfold decisions will be taken in respect of all cases awaiting trial in the Crown Court."

The statement said any trials currently under way would continue, in the hope they could be completed.

It continued: "All those attending court should follow Public Heath England guidance suitably adjusted to reflect the distinct features of a court as a working environment for all concerned, including jurors.

In relation to other court hearings, including family and magistrates' courts, where no jurors are involved, the statement said steps are being taken to enable as many hearings as possible to take place - with some or all of those involved attending by telephone, videolink or online.

It added: "Many court hearings will be able to continue as normal with appropriate precautions being taken.

"We must make every effort to maintain a functioning court system in support of the administration of justice and rule of law."

Earlier on Tuesday, organisations that represent lawyers called for jury trials to be halted and said the risks of them continuing were "too great".

Previous official guidance from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said that during the current phase of the outbreak "the business of our courts and tribunals continues".

The Bar Council, which represents around 17,000 barristers in England and Wales, urged the MoJ on Tuesday to stop jury trials "for the time being", warning that around the country there are reports of jurors being forced to drop out of cases due to self-isolating, or coming to court when they should have stayed away, putting the health of others at risk.

Chairwoman Amanda Pinto QC said: "Being in a jury trial should not be a game of Russian roulette with the participants' health."

She added: "We urge the Ministry of Justice to adapt quickly to this rapidly changing environment by continuing proceedings where possible, but without juries and by not requiring judges, barristers and others to attend hearings in person."

The Criminal Bar Association said in a statement: "Court hearings should be limited to those considered essential for the time being, with others utilising phone and video links where appropriate and subject to proper safeguards.

"We make it clear that the right to trial by jury is a fundamental right enjoyed by all citizens and that this call is for a temporary cessation to allow for proper and considered policies and procedures to be put in place."

In an earlier statement on the developing situation, Lord Burnett said: "The latest guidance from Government on how to respond to Covid-19 would clearly have an impact on the operation of all courts in every jurisdiction.

"It is not realistic to suppose that it will be business as usual in any jurisdiction, but it is of vital importance that the administration of justice does not grind to a halt."

He also said there was an "urgent need to increase the use of telephone and video technology immediately to hold remote hearings where possible" and that emergency legislation is likely to contain measures to expand the powers in criminal courts to use technology.

The Criminal Justice Board, which brings together figures including the Attorney General, Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor, is due to meet for a pre-planned, routine meeting on Wednesday.

Previous reports of court business being affected by Covid-19, included instances of jurors being discharged or sent home.

The Metropolitan Police’s Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, issued a statement updating on how the biggest force in the country was responding and working to protect the public.

She said: “The spread of COVID-19 is of huge concern to everyone, causing fear and uncertainty - none of us know quite how it will affect our families and our lives. The new Government advice yesterday underlined the gravity of the challenge and the need for everyone to behave responsibly and look after ourselves and each other. 

“We are working closely with government at the highest level to respond to the outbreak and to ensure our policing work supports wider efforts in what is a rapidly-evolving and difficult to predict picture. Everyone within the Met is absolutely determined to continue to provide the best possible public service.”

The Director General of the National Crime Agency and the Chief Constable’s leader said misleading advice and predictions about what the government and public sector agencies might do would not help either the public or police forces.

Director General of the National Crime Agency Lynne Owens said: “Social media is at its worse at times of uncertainty. There are impressive experts advising government and law enforcement professionals will advise the Home Office. We are playing our part.”

Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt, said decisions on public events and other government decisions were being made with the input from a range of professionals.

“Expert opinion, evidence and rational decision-making is what is required at worrying and uncertain times. That is what is happening and is what we are supporting from the law enforcement community. Poorly informed speculation is not helpful at a time like this,” he said.

It came as Police and Crime Commissioners began to set their plans for up to 12 months following the decision to cancel local elections.

Leicestershire PCC Lord Willy Bach confirmed that he will remain in post until May 2021.

He said: “We are in an unprecedented situation that no-one could have anticipated.  COVID19 has changed the economic, social and political landscape.  Things are changing rapidly and the next six months may prove extremely difficult for the public and public services; not least the police.”

Focus will be on critical business activities and services plus preparations for potential disruption as a result of illness or government restrictions.

He said: “Given the scale of the crisis, continuity and stability are important.  Whilst the outbreak progresses, Leicestershire Police will play a central role in upholding law and order and keeping our diverse community safe. I want to ensure that public confidence is maintained and will work closely with the Chief Constable to make this happen.

“We will adapt our plans in response the changing situation and proactively provide further communication as the situation develops.”

Leave a Comment
View Comments 2
In Other News
New trials underway for the first time since lockdown
CPS and Scottish Government outline court contingency plans
Police and Crime Panel meetings can now be virtual under new regulation
Police and prosecutors told by CPS and NPCC to delay charges
Retired officers face call-up as part of contingency plans
'Gutted' officers react after Sergeant exams cancelled by CoP
How are our prisons tackling coronavirus?
Police review communications as COVID-19 plan changes
More News