Crown court hearings should be conducted remotely ‘where it is lawful and in the interests of justice to do so’, the lord chief justice has recommended in guidance which has been welcomed by the criminal bar.

Lord Burnett said hearings including mentions, bail applications, applications to extend custody time limits, uncontested applications under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and hearings involving legal argument only ‘will generally be suitable for remote attendance by all advocates’.

The guidance, issued yesterday, states that ‘any hearing which a defendant is required to attend in person will normally require the defence advocate also to be physically present at court’.

Hearings where a witness is to give evidence, ‘whether in person or remotely, will normally require the advocates who are to examine or cross-examine that witness to be present in court … unless the court otherwise orders’, the guidance says.

Lord Burnett

Lord Burnett: Crown court hearings should be remote ‘where it is lawful and in the interests of justice to do so’

Source: Alamy

Plea and trial preparation hearings will also ‘normally require the attendance in person of advocates for both prosecution and defence’, unless the court is satisfied there has been ‘effective engagement’ between prosecution and defence, the defendant has been given appropriate advice on their plea and ‘all relevant preparations have been completed in advance’.

Sentencing hearings ‘will require consideration on a case-by-case basis’, with ‘the seriousness of the charge, the intention of victims or their families to attend, the amount of public interest and many other factors’ to be taken into account when deciding whether advocates can attend remotely.

‘This national guidance is not a prescriptive practice direction but intended simply to assist in promoting consistency and predictability of approach to the question of remote attendance in the Crown court, whilst recognising the need for flexibility in the individual case and to suit local conditions,’ Burnett said.

Michelle Heeley QC, leader of the western circuit, welcomed the guidance, as did criminal barrister Mark George QC, who said: ‘There are lots of short Crown court hearings which can and should continue to be dealt with remotely.’

Justice minister James Cartlidge said: ‘I welcome, as I am sure stakeholders across the criminal justice system also will, the guidance issued today by the lord chief justice which aims to promote consistency and predictability of approach to remote attendance at hearings.’