The head of the judiciary has ordered all new jury trials to be suspended until systems are brought in to ensure social distancing measures amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett said courts had already put in place arrangements to use telephone and video to allow some hearings to continue. But he said jury trials could not be conducted remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“My unequivocal position is that no jury trials or other physical hearings can take place unless it is safe for them to do so,” he said.
“A particular concern is to ensure social distancing in court and in the court building.”
No new trials will start, as of this morning, and efforts to bring existing jury trials to a conclusion should continue, the chief justice said. If necessary, existing cases will be adjourned to allow safety measures to be brought in.
Jurors summoned for the week are being contacted to ask them to remain at home. They will only be asked to attend court where specific arrangements to ensure safety have been put in place.
As recently as last week, the Ministry of Justice had insisted on a business as usual approach in the courts. That was despite the Prime Minister urging Brits to practise social distancing measures.
However, pressure from barristers and professional bodies and the realities of cases being postponed or cancelled saw the position shift.
Last week the Lord Chief Justice said crown court trials expected to last longer than three days would be put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak.