It is almost a year since the courts started to hear more cases remotely as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has enabled us to keep people safe whilst continuing to administer justice. At the start of the year as we went once more into lockdown in the face of rapidly increasing infection rates, I made it clear that facilitating remote attendance of all or some of those involved in hearings should be the default position in all jurisdictions.
Since then the Prime Minister has announced the Government’s roadmap to ease restrictions in England and the First Minister has set out the Welsh Government’s approach to coming out of lockdown. The courts must adapt to these changes as we have done on many occasions over the last twelve months.
During this time, we have seen that technology has many advantages but, in some circumstances, it can also have the effect of slowing down work. Over the next few weeks and months as the number of people who have been vaccinated against COVID increases and restrictions begin to ease across England and Wales, it will be possible and desirable to increase attendance in person where it is safe and in the interests of justice. This will be important to maximise the throughput of work.
The interests of justice are wider than the circumstances of the individual case and include the efficient despatch of business in the interest of dealing with cases in all jurisdictions expeditiously.
There will be a continuing role for judges, magistrates, staff and legal professionals in ensuring that the recovery of courts is both safe and successful. Remote and hybrid hearings will still play their part in managing footfall in courtrooms and public areas. With more people attending court everyone must continue to follow the guidance on social distancing, hand sanitising, the wearing of face coverings and any local arrangements. This will ensure that as restrictions are eased, the administration of justice continues to be delivered safely.
I wish to express once again my enormous gratitude for the remarkable and continued efforts of judges, magistrates, staff, legal professionals and all those who contribute to our justice system.
Lord Burnett of Maldon
The Lord Chief Justice