The COVID-19 crisis has caused large parts of society to temporarily shut down for the last three months, with all kinds of industries from hospitality to holidays finding their activity impacted.
The justice system however, with the hard work of all those involved, has been able to continue to operate (albeit with the use of technology and on a reduced and prioritised scale).
Technology has been a vital factor in the continuation of the justice system through these unprecedented and incredibly challenging times.
Remote hearings will undoubtedly become a tool that courts up and down the country look to use, even long after lockdown, as Sir Ernest Ryder, The Senior President of Tribunals confirmed that…
“We will continue to develop the technology that has been introduced for use in remote hearings and in our buildings and we will use this opportunity to increase the number of panel hearings that take place…”
That said, the resumption of more face to face hearings is an indication that we are heading back towards whatever normal was.
In fact, over 150 courts have continued to hold hearings in person throughout the pandemic, but with strict social distancing measures in place.
It is with these same measures in place, that a further 16 courts are now planning to resume face to face hearings.
“Throughout the coronavirus outbreak, court staff and the judiciary have worked tirelessly to make sure justice has not stood still and I’m pleased that we are now in a position to reopen more of our buildings”.
The words of Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, who, despite his praise for the innovation and commitment of the whole service, is clearly ready for a return to the status quo. The accountability and professionalism that comes with face to face hearings is something that technology will always struggle to replicate.
Access to justice has not been sacrificed during this difficult period of time, which was always the most important thing.
The continued hard work of all stakeholders will be key in ensuring that the road back to normality is as smooth as possible. Relationships and communication will be key, as plans to establish so called ‘Nightingale’ courts are talked about, where civic halls and university buildings are borrowed to enable socially distanced hearings to be conducted safely and with increased capacity.
How far down the ‘road to normality’ are we?
Well, about half way, as 54% of the 341 crown, magistrates, county and family courts are now open across England and Wales. That’s 184 out of 341, with the following courts having opened up as recently as the 8th June:
- Romford Magistrates Court, London
- Barnet Civil and Family Centre, London
- Derby Combined Court, Midlands
- Chesterfield Justice Centre (Chesterfield Court House), Midlands
- Mansfield Magistrates and County Court, Midlands
- Bolton Combined Court – Crown only, Northwest
- Southend County Court, South East
- Horsham Law Courts, South East
- Canterbury Combined Court, South East
- Aylesbury Crown Court, South East
- Portsmouth Magistrates Court, South West
- Salisbury Law Courts, South West
- Swindon Magistrates Court, South West
- Newport Crown Court, Wales
- Merthyr Tydfil Combined Court, Wales
- Llandudno Magistrates Court, Wales
We’re not out of the woods yet, but by working together and following the guidelines, we’ll be able to open more and more courts over the next few weeks and months, once again increasing the access of the general public to justice.
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