The lord chancellor is not in favour of ‘radical measures’ to clear the court backlog – but Covid operating hours are still on the table, according to the Bar Council.
In an update to barristers, bar chair Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, said Robert Buckland QC does not want to impose restrictions on the right to a jury trial or to replace 12-person juries with a judge and two magistrates.
However, following a meeting with the Lord Chancellor last week, Sweeting said temporary Covid operating hours are still under consideration. ‘I have reiterated our opposition to this measure and our doubts about whether it will make any substantial impact on the backlog rather than just consuming sitting days inefficiently,’ he said.
Last month, the Criminal Bar Association claimed that Covid operating hours – which could see courts in session between 9am and 6pm – had been abandoned ‘for the foreseeable future’.
On remote juries, the lord chancellor ‘made clear that this measure is “futureproofing”; removing the legislative barrier that would otherwise exist if pandemic conditions required the use of a remote jury to keep the criminal justice system functioning’. Remote juries would be permitted under the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill.
‘We have been assured that the measure would not be deployed without full evaluation and consultation, together with better technology,’ Sweeting said. ‘It is reassuring to have confirmation that this is a pandemic measure and we will seek to get this reassurance on record as the bill goes through parliament. We are considering other provisions contained in the bill.’
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill is currently at committee stage.