Jury trials in England and Wales will resume from 18 May said the Lord Chief Justice on Monday. Physical distancing will be observed in a small number of crown courts selected.
Lord Burnett of Maldon said the first trials where jury members will be sworn in will be at the Old Bailey in London and Cardiff crown court.
The Bar Council has praised the decision, “It is very encouraging to see that jury trials will start up again from mid-May. Jury trials are essential to our criminal justice system and to the rule of law.”
— Judicial Office (@JudiciaryUK) May 11, 2020
The Law Society responded to the news by commenting on the 37,000 backlog of cases that the justice system faced at the start of the year saying that the pile-up is ‘growing at pace’ because of the coronavirus.
All new jury trials had been suspended from 23 March and during the lockdown, the justice system has continued via online meetings.
With no trials taking place many barristers working in criminal law have been receiving no pay with many barristers not being able to qualify for financial support offered via the state.
The Bar Council released research on 27 April stating that 53% of self-employed barristers cannot survive six months and 74% cannot survive a year.
”A threat to the barristers’ profession survival is a threat to the future of our justice system.”
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar COUNCIL
Amanda Pinto, QC Chair of the Bar Council said ” Barristers and others involved in the justice system are rightly classed as key workers by the government, because they are essential to ensuring that justice continues to be delivered for the public, despite the pandemic. A threat to the barristers’ profession survival is a threat to the future of our justice system.”
Patrick Buckley, 49, a self-employed barrister based in Manchester, spoke on how the coronavirus has affected the justice system. ”There are somewhere in the region of 70,000 cases awaiting commencement, the system was broken before these terrible events that have fallen upon us but it’s years and years of under-investment I’m afraid and a system that is very archaic and reluctant to embrace the modern world.”
Mr. Buckley also agrees with the Bar Council and fears that many may not be able to survive without help from the government. ”The vast majority of criminal barristers that are legally aided earn little more than school teachers. I’d assume that would come as a shocking surprise to many.”
”I think that there will be a slew of bankruptcies, the system is not there to cover those losses and because we are described as key workers and the fact that we are intrinsic to the criminal justice system we are not eligible for any of the loans or grants. It’s a very difficult time and I think that there will be a lot of casualties”