Government guidance on the Coronavirus Bill, due to be introduced to parliament today, indicates how the authorities hope to keep the justice system functioning during the current emergency.
The bill will:
- Expand availability of video and audio link in court proceedings. This would include magistrates’ court hearings taking place by phone or by video, should an individual appeal restriction of movement due to quarantine measures. This will ensure that an appeal takes place but will not require a person to break quarantine in order to attend in person. It will also enable the expansion of the availability of video and audio link in various criminal proceedings, including full video and audio hearings in certain circumstances, and public participation in relation to these and other court and tribunal proceedings conducted by audio and video. The measures will enable a wider range of proceedings to be carried out by video, so that courts can continue to function and remain open to the public, without the need for participants to attend in person. This will give judges more options for avoiding adjournments and keeping business moving through the courts to help reduce delays in the administration of justice and alleviate the impact on families, victims, witnesses and defendants.
- Ensure that the Treasury can transact its business at all times, by making it possible for a single commissioner or a single Treasury minister to sign instruments and act on behalf of the commissioners, during a COVID-19 emergency period. Under current rules, where any instrument or act is required to be signed by the Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury, it must be signed by two or more of the commissioners. This change will ensure that the Treasury can transact its business at all times during a COVID-19 emergency period, should commissioners be unable to fulfil their duty.
- Allow temporary judicial commissioners (JCs) to be appointed at the request of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, in the event that there are insufficient JCs available to operate the system under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. This is the one of the critical pieces of domestic legislation for national security. It creates the statutory basis for the use of the investigatory powers by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, using warrants issued under the act. These warrants provide the agencies with the capability they need to protect national security and investigate and prevent serious crime.
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Coronavirus Bill: What it will say on courts and justice