Note from Sunpritha:
Covid-19 presents an unprecedent challenge for the Criminal Justice System. Courts, prosecuting authorities, solicitors and barristers are unable to able to operate in the usual way.
For anyone involved in the Criminal Justice System this is an extremely stressful time where it is crucial to have a strong legal defence team to communicate and correspond with all agencies to ensure your case is not affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
What is the current government guidance on trials and Court hearings?
The government guidance and Court protocols are constantly being updated and reviewed. At the time of answering these questions the current position is set out in the following document;
In summary, the Courts are seeking to ensure that the CJS wheels keep turning by listing administrative hearings digitally. At this stage no criminal trials have commenced. However, pilot trials in the Crown Court and Magistrates Courts will commence towards the end of May 2020.
Will custody time-limits be affected?
Where possible the Prosecution should still to ensure that cases are tried within the Custody Time Limits.
However, currently this is not always be possible due to the Covid 19 outbreak. The government have introduced legislation which enables the Court to take account of this factor and extend the Custody Time Limits, if satisfied such an extension is necessary.
My trial has been adjourned. When will it be re-listed?
Due to the current uncertainty as to when jury trials will fully resume the Courts are reviewing matters on a case by case basis. Cases currently listed for trial will have trial dates vacated and the court will either relist for a further mention hearing or re-fix the trial date in the foreseeable future. Bail and remand status plays a significant factor in such decisions.
The Court relies heavily on information from your solicitor to determine the priority of your trial.
My trial is not for another few months, will it be effective?
Due to the uncertainty of the current situation the government and Minisitry of Justice have not set out a definitive guidance on what is proposed for all future cases and the Court timetable. The guidance and legislation is updated frequently. Therefore, at this stage it is crucial that you stay in contact with and continue to work with your solicitor to prepare your matter.
How can I continue to prepare my case in lockdown?
Utilise the technology available. For example:
1. Telephone calls
3. Instant messaging applications
4. Zoom calls
5. Document sign applications
6. Secure file transfer applications
Ask your solicitor what platforms they are using to communicate with clients. If you do not have access to these, speak with your solicitor to work out the best platform for you.
Will I be expected to attend Court in person?
Wherever possible, your solicitor will liaise with the Court and the Prosecution to ensure that you are only required to attend Court when necessary.
Your solicitor will notify you as soon as practically possible if you are required to attend so that you can make the necessary arrangements. You should try your best to follow the government guidance on travel.
Will the Courts be safe?
Courts will be following government guidance on safety measures. The following measures are to be implemented into Court centres, once open:
1. Separation (2m) distance rule for ques in and out the Court building
2. Sufficient supply of hand washes and hand washing breaks
3. Sufficient arrangements for cleaning of all surfaces touched by people during the Court day
4. 2m distance rule to be implemented in the Court room. This will include between Jurors, solicitors, Counsel, Jurors and the public.
5. No court supplied water carafes.
Where possible, you should attend Court with your own PPE and refreshments.
If you or a member of your household is showing symptoms…
You should notify your legal representative immediately.
Best advice to anyone who has an upcoming Court hearing?
1. Stay in touch with your solicitor. Your solicitor will be able to keep you posted on latest developments, changes in government guidance and progress of your case throughout this period.
2. Talk through your concerns with your solicitor. They will be able to address your concerns directly based on the latest government guidance. This should put your nerves at ease. Avoid Google!
3. Utilise the free time you may now have to work on your case. Ask your solicitor if there is anything that they require from you or that you could be working on.
4. Be patient with the Criminal Justice System, your Solicitor and lockdown! All criminal cases, regardless of their status have been impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak. Rest assured your legal team, other agencies and the Court are acting as expediently as practicable to ensure your case is dealt with efficiently with the least disruption.
5. Provide your solicitor with any dates to avoid that you have within the next 12 months.