Several police stations have agreed to resume video remand hearings from their custody suites after the Ministry of Justice and Home Office agreed a joint funding arrangement, it has emerged.
As an emergency provision during the pandemic, forces had been supporting HM Courts & Tribunals Service with video remand hearings from custody suites. In October, the Gazette revealed that they would be pulling their support altogether from December because they could no longer afford to support it. Guidance was issued to forces last November, encouraging forces to use video remand hearings where a detainee is confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19.
This week, the Law Society revealed that Robert Buckland and Priti Patel’s departments have agreed a joint funding arrangement to support the reintroduction of video remand hearings for all defendants at a number of locations: Durham, Derbyshire, Devon and Cornwall, Norfolk, Suffolk and Gloucestershire. The courts operating video remand hearings for these forces are Norwich, Ipswich, Truro, Plymouth, Exeter, Derby and Durham. Kent is carrying out video remand hearings for warrants and bail breaches.
The Society said the joint funding arrangement supports reintroduction until at least the end of the financial year.
Society president David Greene said: ‘During this unprecedented health crisis, anything that can minimise the number of people having to appear at court for matters which could be reasonably dealt with via remote means, both helps keep our members and other court users safe and helps keep the courts open and able to tackle the backlogs.
‘We are pleased to see that the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have agreed funding to support the reintroduction of video remand hearings for all defendants in several locations and hope that this is the first step towards restoring their use more widely.’
However, Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice and a former magistrate, expressed concerns about video remand hearings.
She said: ‘All the evidence on video remand courts suggests that they harm the effective participation of defendants, impede client-lawyer communication and lead to lower take up of legal representation. Video-remand hearing courts may reduce footfall but as Sir Tom Winsor recently said, "Remote hearings and trials can keep you safe from the pandemic, but they do not keep you safe from injustice”.’
A government spokesperson said: 'We’ve identified the areas where virtual remand hearings would have the biggest operational impact - reducing footfall in courts and the risk of virus transmission.'