Over the next few weeks and months as the number of people who have been vaccinated against Covid increases and restrictions begin to ease across England and Wales, it will be “possible and desirable” to increase attendance in person in the courts where it is safe and in the interests of justice, the Lord Chief Justice has said.
At the beginning of the year, with the country in a third lockdown, Lord Burnett of Maldon made it clear that facilitating remote attendance of all or some of those involved in hearings should be the default position in all jurisdictions.
In his latest statement however he highlighted the publication of the Government’s roadmap to ease restrictions in England and the First Minister’s setting out of the Welsh Government’s approach to coming out of lockdown.
“The courts must adapt to these changes as we have done on many occasions over the last twelve months,” Lord Burnett said.
On the plan now to increase attendance in person, he said: “During this time [the pandemic], we have seen that technology has many advantages but, in some circumstances, it can also have the effect of slowing down work……[Increasing attendance in person] will be important to maximise the throughput of work.”
The LCJ added: “The interests of justice are wider than the circumstances of the individual case and include the efficient despatch of business in the interest of dealing with cases in all jurisdictions expeditiously.”
Lord Burnett said there would be a continuing role for judges, magistrates, staff and legal professionals in ensuring that the recovery of courts was both safe and successful.
“Remote and hybrid hearings will still play their part in managing footfall in courtrooms and public areas,” he suggested.
“With more people attending court everyone must continue to follow the guidance on social distancing, hand sanitising, the wearing of face coverings and any local arrangements. This will ensure that as restrictions are eased, the administration of justice continues to be delivered safely.”