The practice of trial by jury sits at the heart of our criminal justice system.
New Jury trials were suspended on 23 March due to the public health crisis caused by coronavirus. Since then, intensive 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.
The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon, following discussion with the Lord Chancellor, has now decided that new jury trials may be started in a few courts in the week commencing May 18 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.
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.
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.
The trials will be conducted under the same legal standards and procedures as before the COVID-19 emergency, with twelve jurors. Jury service is an essential part of criminal justice and jurors perform a vital duty.
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.”