The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon, following discussion with the Lord Chancellor, has announced that new jury trials in Cardiff Crown Court may be started week commencing 18th May.
This will be commenced ‘under special arrangements to maintain the safety of all participants and the jury in line with Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines’.
The LCJ similarly continues to support the resumption of adjourned trials where this can be done safely.
The first courts in which new juries can be sworn will include the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey in London and Cardiff Crown Court. Public Health England and Public Health Wales have been involved in the detailed arrangements following recommendations from the Jury Trials Working Group, which has representatives from the legal profession and across the criminal justice system.
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 trials will be conducted under the same legal standards and procedures as before the COVID-19 emergency, with 12 jurors. Jury service is an essential part of criminal justice and jurors perform a vital duty. Small numbers of trials are expected to take place initially.
Further courts around the country are being assessed against criteria developed by the Working Group so that the number of cases heard can be gradually increased when safe to do so. In each location, Court facilities will be carefully considered to ensure the safety of all those who play a part in a Crown Court trial or support it.
Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, said:
“I am pleased that the courts are now in a position, with approval from Public Health England and Public Health Wales, to take some first steps towards the resumption of jury trials. A limited number of trials will take place, conducted safely and observing social distancing rules, at courts including the Old Bailey in London and at Cardiff Crown Court. These will also help us to understand how it might be possible to conduct trials more widely as the situation with coronavirus develops.
“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.
In response, Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said:
“It is very encouraging to see that jury trials will start up again from mid-May. Jury trials are essential to our criminal justice system and to the rule of law. It is reassuring that efforts to restart jury trials have involved a painstaking and cautious approach, that prioritises practical measures to ensure the safety of all those involved in the delivery of criminal justice.
“The decision has not been made lightly. The Bar Council sees these first steps in managing and, then, we anticipate, as soon as is safely possible, rolling out jury trials more broadly across the nation, as a positive sign way that criminal justice matters.”
“I am extremely grateful to the Lord Chief Justice, the wider judiciary, legal professions, court staff and colleagues from across the Criminal Justice System for their determination and resolve in the discussions to get us to this point. Coming together in that spirit of collaboration will ensure that justice can continue to be done in a way that is safe for all court users.”
Arrangements to allow appropriate distancing to be maintained at all times include providing a second courtroom, linked by closed circuit TV, to enable reporters and others to watch the proceedings, and another court room to use for jury deliberations. Courts staff will ensure that entrances and exits are carefully supervised, and that all necessary cleaning takes place.
New Jury trials were suspended on 23 March due to the public health crisis caused by coronavirus. Since then, work has been underway through the Jury Trials Working Group chaired by Mr Justice Edis to establish ways in which a small number of jury trials may be commenced safely, in line with regulations allowing all participants in criminal trials to travel from home to court.
How is it working?
We’re looking to share experiences for lawyers working in Welsh courts during the pandemic. If you would like to share your experiences of working in Cardiff Crown Court when new jury trials start, please contact the Editor, Emma Waddingham firstname.lastname@example.org