The Chief Justice has banned jury trials - here’s how courts will operate

Monday, 23rd March 2020, 3:27 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd March 2020, 3:27 pm
This is what you need to know (Photo: Shutterstock)
This is what you need to know (Photo: Shutterstock)

Lord Chief Justice has decided to put a “pause” on jury trials due to the continuing spread of coronavirus.

This is everything you need to know about the decision.

Why have jury trials been banned?

Jury trials have been banned because the message from the Prime Minister has made it clear that everyone should be taking precautions to avoid unnecessary contact.

Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Burnett of Maldon, said, “My unequivocal position is that no jury trials or other physical hearings can take place unless it is safe for them to do so.

“A particular concern is to ensure social distancing in court and in the court building.”

Will trials be able to go ahead?

In the announcement made by the Lord Chief Justice, it was stated that no new trials are to start.

Jurors who have been summoned for this week (beginning Monday 23 March) are being contacted and will be instructed to stay home. If you are among them and have not been contacted, you should get in touch with the court you are due to attend.

“[Jurors] will only be asked to come in for trials where specific arrangements to ensure their safety have been put in place,” the Lord Chief Justice said.

“In some cases, this may mean that jurors may be called in to start a new trial later on Monday.”

All hearings in the Crown Court that are able to take place remotely should do so, and other hearings not involving a jury should continue if social distancing measures can be effectively implemented.

What about existing trials?

In the statement from the Lord Chief Justice, it was explained that “efforts to bring existing jury trials to a conclusion should continue”.

It was emphasised that social distancing measures should be in place at all times, and “if it is necessary to adjourn trials already underway for a short period to put those safety measures in place, this must be done”.

It will be the responsibility of resident Judges, with HMCTS staff, to determine whether a trial can safely be continued.

Alternative arrangements

It was stated by the Lord Chief Justice that “a review of arrangements in our courts is called for” and that other arrangements will be put into place to allow as many hearings as possible to continue.

The Lord Chief Justice said, “We have put in place arrangements to use telephone, video and other technology to continue as many hearings as possible remotely.

“We will make best possible use of the equipment currently available; HMCTS is working round the clock to update and add to that. Some hearings, the most obvious being jury trials, cannot be conducted remotely.”

(Photo: WHO)

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 16 March the government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible. Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms now needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants and theatres to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website.

Should I avoid public places?

The advice now is to avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.