Derby Crown Court meeting to discuss future conduct of cases
On Tuesday 24 March the resident Judge at Derby Crown Court, HHJ Shant QC, hosted a telephone conference for local practitioners. Derby solicitor advocate William Bennett took part in the call.
Local barristers had already announced that they would not be attending court to represent clients and would only take part in hearings by way of telephone or video conferencing.
Essentially it was to obtain thoughts and opinions on the way through the crisis, taking advantage of remote working, as well as discussing how else the court was to continue dealing with cases.
The Court confirmed that the court was running at approximately 25% of the usual staffing level. It was anticipated that the Court would open one or two courts to deal with the admin cases. The court building would not be open to anyone other than staff.
While some chambers and the Crown Prosecution Service had the benefit of ‘proper’ video facilities, others did not have that luxury.
The Learned Judge suggested that PTPH’s could be conducted without plea, but by telephone with the defendant absent, on the basis that instructions had been taken prior to the hearing.
Although this may be possible for bail cases, it seems increasingly unlikely that any progress can be made in custody cases unless special provision is made.
Prisons are not allowing visits. Lawyers cannot access video link facilities if the courts are closed. ‘Informal’ video conferences with prisoners are unlikely to be permitted, even if possible. Telephone conference would need special arrangements with the prisons.
The Judge was concerned about this lack of access to defendants, although she was perhaps the only one of other more vocal contributors who did.
In terms of custody cases, it seems that an announcement will be imminent about legislation suspending custody time limits due to the crisis. This will be at a time when our access to those prisoners is extremely restricted.
The Judge acknowledged that as matters stand it will be impossible to undertake sentences for those in custody. As a result, it appears that they will simply remain there.
Those needing interpreters, whether in prison or on bail, pose another unique problem for the proposed telephone hearings. Without defendants being part of the hearing then that problem may recede.
Judges may be more prepared to offer an opinion in relation to sentence or direction of a case, but that is still being developed.
A further meeting is scheduled for 25 March and we will again publish any useful information arising from it.
If you have any queries about the conduct of your case then please contact the lawyer dealing with it. Although our lawyers are working remotely we are aiming for business to continue as usual as far as that is possible.