Is my jury trial going to go ahead during the Covid 19 pandemic?

June 28, 2020

If you are waiting for your jury trial to be fixed during the current Covid 19 pandemic you will be alert to the fact that the possibility of it going ahead any time soon is extremely unlikely.  The crown court swiftly adapted itself to virtual and safe proceedings but due to the ill design of court buildings, to deal with the issues surrounding Covid 19, this has not included jury trials.  The result of this is that a backlog of approximately 39,000 cases at the start of the pandemic has now grown considerably. 

The Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has proposed that the short term solution to this might be to withdraw the right to a jury trial.  Given the continuing collapse of the justice system this proposal may well take effect in just a few weeks’ time.  The speed of the changes are in response not only to Covid 19 but also the fact that parliament goes into recess on 21 July and legislation would need to be in place before then.  It is also considered that there may be another spike of Covid 19 in the winter months that could cause even more delay.

The options of reducing the number of jurors would only increase capacity for jury trials by between 5% and 10%, which has been recognised as wholly inadequate to address the current crisis.  Buckland has suggested that a single Judge sitting with two magistrates could be used for matters where the maximum sentence is two years imprisonment and that this would increase capacity for trials by 40%.  This seems to be the governments preferred option, though Buckland has stated it would be a temporary solution and not the basis for permanent change. 

The law society believes that using non-court buildings for additional court rooms is certainly a preferable option to two magistrates and a single Judge.  They consider this can be a good and real solution in light of the reduction in social distancing measures announced on the 23rd of June.

We will be watching developments closely over the coming days. We will be ready to respond and play our part in ensuring that a world-class court system is not sacrificed on the altar of financial expediency.