The imminent expiry of contracts for court catering has prompted fear of a risk of ‘accidental contamination’ of jurors who may end up eating their lunch with defendants or victims.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service confirmed that the national contract with Eurest for the provision of on-site catering services in Crown courts in England and Wales expires on 31 August.
A spokeswoman said HMCTS is considering bids from national, regional and local companies to provide services after that date, with a view to getting best value for money.
In some areas, the move may result in catering facilities being closed, but the spokeswoman said separate dining areas will remain available for judges, jurors and others.
But Steve Jonas, a partner in the criminal team at Birmingham firm Jonas Roy Bloom, voiced concern about the proposed closure of catering facilities at his local court, Birmingham Crown Court.
He told the Gazette he fears ‘accidental contamination’ of juries if they are forced to queue for food in the same place as defendants and witnesses.
‘Jurors are supposed to make their minds up collectively only on the basis of what they have seen and heard in the courtroom. Now they may take a view from observing the defendant over lunch,’ he said.
Jonas said: ‘Modern court buildings are designed to keep everyone separate. This will be a backward step.’
The HMCTS spokeswoman dismissed the fear, saying that the Crown court is within walking distance of a variety of eateries. In addition, she said vending machines serving hot and cold drinks and light snacks will be available inside the court buildings.