Lawyers call for suspension of jury trials during coronavirus outbreak
Lawyers continued to push the government to suspend jury trials over health risks for court users and jurors during the coronavirus outbreak.
Late last night, the head of the judiciary said all jury trials over three days would be suspended.
Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland today reinforced last night’s decision, saying: ‘Despite an unprecedented public health emergency, the Prime Minister and I are confident that our courts across England and Wales have a vital role to play and should continue to sit. “
The Justice Department had come under sustained pressure to stay the trials after advocating a standstill approach.
Today Bar Council President Amanda Pinto QC called for the suspension of all in-person hearings across the court system.
“We are calling for a suspension of all in-person hearings in all jurisdictions, except in very exceptional circumstances,” she said in a message to the lawyers.
“The Bar Council considers all procedures conducted in person… to be inconsistent with current government health advice.
“Already members of the public are understandably reluctant to appear,” she said.
“The criminal bar alongside the bar council is still calling for a suspension of all jury trials with a 30-day break, in order to allow a correct assessment of the impact on public health for all court users,” said said Caroline Goodwin QC, president of the Criminal Bar Association. said today.
Daniel O’Donoghue, a criminal lawyer at 23 Essex Street, said City AM that he supported the calls for suspension.
“You go to court, you have extremely unsanitary buildings which are filthy most of the time and have hundreds of members of the public there. You go into the cells and that presents a risk of transmitting the coronavirus from people outside to the prison environment, ”he said.
Gregory Gordon of Guildhall Chambers said a trial he was scheduled to work on today had to be postponed after the plaintiff, a witness and a defense lawyer all said they were self-isolating.
Gordon said City AM “In court, we see some of the most vulnerable people in society, and we are always supposed to pack victims, jurors, witnesses, defendants, court staff and lawyers into a room together, at a time when the government advises to work from home … There should be an immediate end to jury trials. We play politics with people’s lives.
O’Donoghue said there was a risk that jurors would simply refuse to attend trials.
“My concern is that jurors are refusing to enter, which is understandable in light of the evolution of advice,” he said.
The head of the judiciary in England and Wales, Lord Burnett, said last night that the position on short trials would be kept under review as “circumstances change”.
He added that the legal sector “must do everything possible to maintain a functioning justice system in support of the administration of justice and the rule of law”.