Jury trials were shut down in the early stages of the coronavirus and since restarting each court has only been able to deal with a low number of cases while adhering to two-metre social distancing measures.
Plans are now in place to roll out the Leeds pilot with the installation of screens in 160 courtrooms and 80 jury rooms in crown courts across England and Wales to rapidly increase the number of trials being held.
Senior Judge Martin Edmunds QC, who signed off the plan for Isleworth crown court, said the courthouse —which has 13 hearing rooms — is hoping to go from its current maximum of two trials to seven in October.
“Planning has taken place towards utilising more courts for trials on 1m ”, he wrote in the plan. “The element being the removal of fixed jury seating and provision of Perspex screens between jurors and elsewhere on the model developed in Leeds.”
The court was measured up for Perspex screens in July, with installation imminent and new “furnishings and plinths” also on the way.
Harrow crown court has agreed a similar plan, seen by the Standard, showing it is hoping jury trials will occupy five out of its eight courtrooms by the end of next month. At present, Harrow is able to run just one trial. It is expected that about 50 of the newly fitted out courtrooms will be in London.
Judge Rosa Dean, who oversees Harrow, has urged barristers to ensure cases are fully prepared and given realistic time estimates to make full use of the courts it can open. “We will need to list so as to use the available trial courts as intensively as possible,” she wrote.
The justice system has been also grappling with limited capacity in the cells for defendants while social distancing is in effect. The option of defendants dialling-in to their trials from prison — except on days when they are giving evidence — is being considered.