The lord chief justice has encouraged a return to in-person hearings over the next few weeks, in order to ‘maximise the throughput of work’.
In a message on courts recovery, Lord Burnett of Maldon said technology has ‘many benefits’ but can slow down work in some circumstances. ‘Over the next few weeks and months as the number of people who have been vaccinated against Covid increases and restrictions begin to ease across England and Wales, it will be possible and desirable to increase attendance in person where it is safe and in the interests of justice. This will be important to maximise the throughput of work,’ he said.
Lord Burnett added that the interests of justice are ‘wider than the circumstances of the individual case and include the efficient despatch of business in the interest of dealing with cases in all jurisdictions expeditiously’.
The message is very different to that of two months ago. On 5 January, Lord Burnett said remote attendance must be the default position in all jurisdictions and that footfall in court must be kept to a minimum.
In today’s statement, the lord chief justice said judges, magistrates, staff and legal professionals still have a role in ensuring the recovery of courts is safe and successful.
‘Remote and hybrid hearings will still play their part in managing footfall in courtrooms and public areas. With more people attending court everyone must continue to follow the guidance on social distancing, hand sanitising, the wearing of face coverings and any local arrangements. This will ensure that as restrictions are eased, the administration of justice continues to be delivered safely,' he said.