The government rightly recognised the dangers to health posed by jury trials during the current crisis when it decided yesterday that all jury trials listed for more than 3 days will be postponed. The decision to continue with jury trials of 3 days or less is wholly irresponsible and flies in the face of all the guidance that is being given by both experts and the government.
My colleagues up and down the country are reporting cases where jury members are being discharged because they are self isolating. The same is starting to occur with defendants who are coming from prison and this is bound to increase dramatically. In addition many courts are dirty and do not even have basic facilities such as hand gel dispenser. The BBC reported a case at Gloucester Crown Court two days ago where a barrister told the judge that the cells were cleaner than the court.
This has to stop. All of us who practise in the courts recognise how seriously jurors take their duties but it is too much to expect them to travel to court on public transport, to be packed into a jury box with 11 other people in a court room and to be cooped up in what is usually a cramped jury room at every break and when considering their verdicts. I know from experience how rapidly ordinary bugs sweep round a court room at the best of times. With Covid-19, courts will potentially be incubators for the virus. It is no exaggeration to say that jury trials will put the lives of jurors, witnesses, defendants and court staff as well as lawyers at risk.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have already led the way in suspending all jury trials. The government must do the same in England and Wales without any further delay.
Patrick Roche, barrister, Garden Court Chambers
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All jury trials must be suspended immediately