One of the first socially-distanced jury trials went ‘like a Swiss watch’ this week, according to counsel, with lawyers sitting in the jury box and court documents quarantined for 72 hours.
A three-day assault case heard at Warwick Crown Court was among the first criminal trials to re-start since restrictions were eased earlier this month. To facilitate social distancing, jurors sat on the benches usually occupied by barristers and instructing solicitors, while lawyers sat in the jury box. Hand sanitiser was widely available; one-way systems were in place throughout the building; and jurors arrived at staggered times to avoid queueing.
Meanwhile, robing rooms were limited to eight people and court users were invited to rehearse the safety measures before the trial began.
A spokesperson from St Philips Chambers in Birmingham, said the trial had gone ‘like a Swiss watch’ and jurors had felt comfortable and relaxed. ‘It went very well. It’s a clear testament to the hard work done by the judges and the court staff who had no outside contractors brought in,’ he said.
The case, which involved three witnesses, ran according to its pre-coronavirus timetable. ‘Because the systems have been rehearsed so well they didn’t slow the trial down that much at all,’ the spokesperson said.
Jury trials have now restarted in Reading, Warwick, Winchester, Manchester Minshull Street, Bristol, Cardiff and the Old Bailey. More court centres are expected to open in the coming weeks.
Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said the effort by Crown court staff around the country had been ‘nothing short of impressive’, adding that she would go into court and conduct a hearing, if asked.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.