The prospect of jury trials restarting has come closer with news that the judiciary has set up a working party to consider how they can be brought back as soon as it is safe to do so. The news comes shortly after lord chancellor Robert Buckland said he wanted jury trials back up and running as quickly as possible.
The Law Society, Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association have joined the working party, which will report to the lord chief justice through its chair, Mr Justice Edis.
The Society will be represented by Ian Kelcey, co-chair of the criminal law committee. Kelcey told the Gazette that he will be happy to receive constructive suggestions from members of the profession which he can feed into the group to consider.
While HM Courts & Tribunals Service has kept several courts open to keep the justice system running during the Covid-19 lockdown, jury trials have been paused.
Buckland says he will do everything he can to preserve the jury system and ruled out judge-only trials.
He told the Joint Committee on Human Rights that smaller juries, as happened in World War Two, is a concept ‘worth serious consideration’. He also sounded keen at the idea of running a couple of courts in the main Crown court building, and a few more jury trial courts in another public building nearby, to get some of the shorter, straightforward jury trials moving again.
Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the CBA, said remote trials involving juries was not on the agenda. She said: ‘The question of whether or not we can or should have remote hearings specifically designed for jury trials in any shape or form, is simply a distraction and specifically remote or virtual jury trials are just not envisaged by the Covid-19 regulations. The whole focus of collective strategy is and has to be about the resumption of live, in court, jury trials - but only when safe to do so. That focus remains the focus, and the lord chief justice is not envisaging commencing jury trials until the situation is safe and we are able to manage jury trials in a Crown court setting.’