Jury trials should be stopped immediately, the Bar Council said today, likening court cases to playing Russian roulette with participants’ health.
In a message to the Ministry of Justice, Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said jurors are dropping out of cases across the country or are coming to court when they should be self-isolating. ‘Being in a jury trial should not be a game of Russian roulette with the participants’ health,' she said. 'All those involved in court proceedings, be they barristers, witnesses, defendants, jurors or members of the public (let alone court staff and judges), should not be expected to attend court, whilst the rest of the country is very strongly urged to work from home and to avoid “non-essential contact” and “confined spaces”.'
Pinto added: ‘Requiring groups of strangers to gather closely together is quite contrary to current government advice. We urge the Ministry of Justice to adapt quickly to this rapidly changing environment, by continuing proceedings where possible, but without juries and by not requiring judges, barristers and others to attend hearings in person.’
The Criminal Bar Association also urged the MoJ to reconsider. Caroline Goodwin QC said: 'The CBA considers that the current risks posed to court users, including our members, by the continuation of jury trials at this stage, absent proper procedures and protocols being put in place, is too great. Court hearings should be limited to those considered essential for the time being, with others utilising phone and videolinks where appropriate and subject to proper safeguards.'
Earlier today, a family judge imposed emergency measures in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, contrary to government advice issued last night. His Honour Judge Moradifar said physical presence in court buildings ‘should be kept to a minimum’, witnesses should give evidence remotely where possible and, if coming court is unavoidable, attendance should be limited to the advocates if they can readily contact their clients.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.
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Coronavirus: Stop jury trials, says Bar Council