There have been a number of statements issued by the Lord Chief Justice, The Lord Burnett of Maldon, concerning Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) response to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
Just last week, The Lord Chancellor, The Right Honourable Robert Buckland QC MP’s, announced that the courts across England & Wales would continue to sit during the global health crisis as “the rule of law is vital to a functioning democracy and even at times like these, it is essential that out courts are able to administer justice”.
This morning, the Lord Chief Justice further confirmed that arrangements have been put in place to facilitate remote hearings via telephone, videoconference and similar technology to allow as many hearings as possible to continue as planned.
One of the challenges with such arrangements is that some hearings, including Crown Court jury trials, cannot be conducted remotely with the appropriate safeguards. These challenges relate, in particular, to the need for various court users and officers to be present, including witnesses, lawyers and jury members. The Lord Chief Justice has, therefore, taken the decision to halt jury trials in the immediate term.
Any jurors who are scheduled to attend trial are to be contacted and advised to remain at home unless specific safety measures have been put in place. Such measures are to ensure basic hygiene and social distancing whilst attending the court in accordance with the latest guidance issued by Public Health England (PHE).
The above measures also apply to the Magistrates’ Courts. However, the Magistrates’ Courts will, for the time being, continue to deal with and process urgent matters, whilst also facilitating remote hearings where possible.
With regards to hearings listed in the Civil and Family Courts, the default position in these cases is that “hearings should be conducted with one, more than one or all participants attending remotely”. These hearings will therefore be conducted using teleconference and videoconference facilities where possible.
The arrangements of the Courts are under constant review. It is, therefore, very important that individuals with upcoming hearings in the Courts of England & Wales keep up-to-date with the announcements given by the Lord Chief Justice and check current procedures with the relevant court. As the situation with the COVID-19 virus continues to develop, it is inevitable that the above guidance may change at short notice.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.
Solicitor in our corporate and complex case teams
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