Jury trial debate intensifies as Criminal Barristers speak out

by Luke Eccles

A week ago, I touched on the problems facing ‘either way’ jury trials and the prospect of them being temporarily scrapped in order to keep up with demand. This problem has been sparked as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, but I think it is worth pointing out that despite the pandemic, the back log was still significant. Pre COVID, the backlog of trials in the Crown Court already stood at 39,214 so perhaps the lock down just magnified a pre-existing issue.

Today, criminal barristers and legal writers have made their voices heard and strongly argued against the idea of a no jury trial. In a survey done by the Criminal Bar Association, 93% of working criminal barristers do not approve of the proposal to temporarily abolish jury trials for ‘either-way’ offences. Further to this, of those criminal barristers who were surveyed, 95% want the government to open more buildings in order to deal with the increasing demand. The disapproval of temporarily postponing jury trials was described as an “assault on justice” as jury is seen as “the bedrock of our criminal justice system”.

Now we are in this situation, it is now in everyone’s interest to find a way of dealing with the demand and not dwelling on what has happened. As I touched on last week, 7 person juries had been suggested, reminiscent of World War 2 times as well the idea of  opening new premises, in what have been described as “Nightingale Courts”. Like the Nightingale hospitals, that were used to supply greater capacity for patients, the court version would essentially open up make shift court rooms to increase capacity.

Potential remedies like the opening of temporary court rooms should be a priority and the government should work alongside the justice system to find a solution. This should be seen as an immediate problem as a jury trial is the essence of the right to a fair trial with an independent and impartial tribunal of fact.

However, given the times we all find ourselves in, safety and having a COVID proof working environment is of paramount importance, and it will undoubtedly require heaps of government funding and their backing in order to get this system in place.

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