Posted: 29 / 05 / 2020
The real business of the Bar is conducted in Court Rooms, particularly the Criminal Bar.
The efforts being made by those seeking to implement stringent requirements to enable us all to return are truly impressive. Court layouts and arrangements for jurors will and have changed for those hearings that have already taken place in the last couple of weeks. Members of the public and Jurors will have to follow new detailed guidance to ensure safety and social distancing are maintained.
By way of an example I set out below the steps already taken to safeguard jurors at Cardiff Crown Court:
- Inspection of court facilities and procedures and endorsement by Public Health Wales to ensure compliance;
- Familiarisation by Counsel/ Judge in advance of trial;
- One way system in corridors;
- Socially distanced seating in lobby areas;
- Separate court rooms for solicitors, members of the public with social distancing enforced Although a separately numbered court it still forms part of the “courtroom”;
- Court rooms measured and 2m zones established for all participants with specific seats for all participants clearly identified;
- Court questionnaires to identify potential juror concerns re: health, family members any other concerns;
- Lengthy judicial homily to identify jury concerns in advance and invite disclosure of concerns should they arise;
- Stepped introduction of jurors to ensure social distancing;
- Split jury, jurors located around the courtroom to ensure social distancing;
- Jurors in waiting brought into court in two groups;
- Selection of jurors in court whilst jurors located within the building and then brought into court individually;
- Jurors in waiting thanked and discharged in absentia;
- Witnesses brought in and out whilst ensuring social distancing via Judge’s entrance;
- All indictments, copy exhibits (photos) and interview transcripts handled by sterile gloves and placed in folders in the absence of the jury, one each;
- All statements or documents to be put to witnesses, sanitised and placed in witness box in advance or click share;
- Longer sitting times to avoid unnecessary shuttling by jury;
- Defendant’s view canvassed and expressed;
- Conferences in cells with Perspex barrier;
- Email between defence Counsel and solicitors sat in other court observing via video link;
- Jury notes limited. Jurors asked to retain questions until an appropriate break unless a necessity for immediate consideration;
- Court room cleaned during breaks;
- Sanitary gels and wipes available;
- Participants to bring their own water and vessels
These measures will no doubt happen up and down the country. Even robing room and airflow risk assessments are being factored in.
The question here is – can these standards be maintained?