Tuesday, 15 September 2020

The three-court trick

 Earlier, I drew attention to the legal profession's disquiet about the Treasury's refusal to fund the court system in England and Wales to take account of Covid-19. There is a huge backlog of cases pending. The government's response has not been to speed up the court system by applying more resources, but to extend the period by which defendants - not yet convicted, it should be remembered - are remanded in custody by an extra two months.

It is possible to try cases under social distancing rules, but three courts* are required: one for the trial, with the jury occupying the seats normally taken by the press and the public; another with a video link for people watching the hearing; and a third in which the jury can deliberate without sitting too close to one another. It seems that only the most serious cases are going forward under these restrictions. For some others, a virtual courtroom is being experimented with. The jury is still out on this - or rather is sitting at home following proceedings via computer. 

Of course, if the coalition had been bolder in removing more of the imprisonable offences which Blair-Brown had put on the statute book, the backlog would not have been as great. It would still have been there, though, and government needs not only to address the current one but to think seriously about a long-term strategy to cope with emergencies.

*Certain cases in Scotland are heard using only two courts

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