How courts are dealing with the impact of coronavirus lockdown

Ipswich Crown Court Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ipswich Crown Court Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

With the UK a month into lockdown, criminals courts continue to remain open in Suffolk – but what does justice look like in the time of coronavirus?

All jury trials in England and Wales were suspended at the beginning of the lockdown period on March 23 as part of efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Any trials ongoing at the time were paused, under orders of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, who previously said new trials lasting up to three days could go ahead.

Ipswich Crown Court continues to deal with a range of other work – much being conducted remotely – including pre-trial preparation hearings, further case management hearings, sentencing hearings and urgent applications for bail and to extend custody time limits.

Current government emergency measures direct that unnecessary attendance at court should be avoided if possible. Instead, arrangements should be made for participation in proceedings through live video or audio link.

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Meanwhile, Suffolk Magistrates’ Court, also in Ipswich, was announced as one of the priority court and tribunal buildings to remain open for essential face-to-face hearings a week into the lockdown.

Only urgent work is being dealt with, but Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service said it planned to restart work on police traffic prosecution cases capable of being dealt with remotely.

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Current priorities include overnight custody cases from police stations, including arrest warrants and breach of bail cases, sentencing cases, productions from prisons, applications to extend custody time limits, civil applications relating to public health legislation, particularly under the Coronavirus (Emergency) Act 2020, warrants of further detention of property, closure order applications and urgent applications for domestic violence protection orders and search warrants.

Any public health or coronavirus related prosecutions, including breaches of restrictions or requirements imposed to protect public health, and other criminal activity designed to exploit the situation, are also being prioritised, along with any sensitive or high profile cases, hearings involving children and vulnerable witnesses or victims, and any serious and time-sensitive youth cases.

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