Sports halls and hotel meeting rooms ‘could become makeshift courtrooms’ for family and commercial hearings in bid to get through backlog of 37,000 jury trials at traditional courts
- Lord Burnett told MPs that venues which are shut could be used for civil cases
- He hopes crown courts in England and Wales will reopen by end of June
- Jury trials were halted in March due to coronavirus causing increasing backlog
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Sports halls and meeting rooms in hotels ‘could become makeshift courtrooms’ for family and commercial hearings.
All jury trials were halted due to the coronavirus crisis so a backlog has built up to more than 37,000.
The head of the judiciary in England and Wales Lord Burnett of Maldon told MPs yesterday that venues which are shut could be used for civil cases, The Times reported.
This would mean that jury trials could take place in normal courtrooms after they were halted on March 23 by Lord Burnett and the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC.
Head of the judiciary in England and Wales Lord Burnett of Maldon told MPs yesterday that venues which are shut could be used for civil cases
One jury trial requires three courtrooms under social distancing rules. One courtroom for the judge, jurors, lawyers and witnesses, another for the public and press as well as a separate for deliberations.
Lord Burnett told the Commons that he hopes all crown courts reopen in England and Wales and jury trials would resume by the end of June.
The backlog is estimated to be growing by 1,000 more every month and it was around 37,000 before lockdown began.
On March 17, six days before lockdown was announced, criminal trials likely to run longer than three days will be postponed to prevent the spread of the bug in courtrooms.
Trials could be held in lecture theatres or large halls so that people could be kept two metres apart because traditional courts, such as the Old Bailey in London, are too small
Police are being now asked to utilise out of court methods such as community service to try and clear a backlog of court cases caused by coronavirus, The Times reported on Tuesday.
Thousands of prosecutions for drug offences, theft and criminal damage are set to be dropped to clear the backlog.
Juries could be cut to a minimum of seven people to ensure social distancing when courts reopen.
On April 30, Lord Burnett revealed that juries could be reduced in size for the only time since the Second World War.
In England and Wales, 12 jurors are required at trials while 15 jurors are required in Scotland.
Lord Burnett said trials could be carried out online to maintain social distancing when the lockdown is eased.
He added that trials could be held in lecture theatres or large halls so that people could be kept two metres apart because traditional courts are too small.
Experts are also testing remote jury trials using online tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams (pictured)
Justice Minister Chris Philp told MPs in a virtual meeting at the beginning of this month: ‘There is categorically no question at all under any circumstances of the right to jury trial being removed.
‘There is some consideration being given as to if we have further emergency legislation in coronavirus, which is far from certain, indeed it is probably less likely, we might consider allowing a minimum jury size of seven rather than nine as it currently is.
‘That would require legislation, I’m not sure there will be any further legislation, to be honest.
‘But, for that aside – the possibility of a seven minimum rather than a nine – there will not be any diminution in the right to jury trial.’