Nottingham Crown Court response to the Covid-19 part 2
A second telephone conference took place today between local practitioners, the prosecution and judiciary, led by HHJ Dickenson QC, in relation to how Nottingham Crown Court was going to respond to the continuing crisis.
The Lord Chief Justice published guidance this morning and in part this meeting was a reaction to that. Adopting the general tone of that meeting, the Recorder of Nottingham stressed that, for example, trials would only start again in Nottingham once the safety of all those involved could be ensured.
He reflected that this might be unlikely, as staffing levels due to the virus were reduced, and it seemed likely that only the larger courts 1 to 3 would be kept in operation. This would assist in ensuring that distance is kept, particularly if the court continues with its ‘one in one out’ approach to dealing with cases.
Although the Lord Chief Justice appears to recommend simply pushing trials back week after week until they are able to be heard, it seems unlikely that this approach will be adopted in Nottingham. It would eventually lead to a list of hundreds of trials by the time that things return to normal, with the headache of re-listing at that stage. As a result, cases are likely to go into a warned list.
The Judge has taken control of the standards of cleanliness within the building, and is expecting updates on the intention to clean ‘communal’ surfaces such as doors, keyboards and key pads etc every 2 hours.
Rather than prioritise trials, they would prioritise the admin list and try and deal with trials that were capable of sensible resolution. This would mean the 90% of cases that pass through the courts.
Where possible, the court would attempt to move away from the traditional court based hearing. Instead, hearings by way of telephone or video conferencing would be employed. These are both capable of being recorded so can be ‘on the record’.
There was a further discussion of the 74 trials that remain listed to the end of April. Just less than half of the defendants are in custody. Many of them would resolve on the day of trial.
It is hoped that resolution could come sooner, particularly as any trial date is likely to be 6 months away. Resolution might be assisted by judicial intervention, or a realistic approach from either the prosecution or defence.
It seems likely that all trials in any given week are listed on the Monday of that week in the absence of defendants to see whether they can ‘crack’ or whether they need re-listing. Trials are to be allocated to specific Judges who will oversee progress and offer a judicial steer where appropriate.
These hearings are likely to take place as a recorded telephone conference. If a case may be capable of resolution it can then be adjourned for the defendant to offer a view. Negotiation between the Crown and defence is expected to take place prior to the hearing.
The point was accepted that the lay out of the cells meant that it was impossible to observe the ‘2 meter rule’ at Nottingham. Local solicitor advocate Emma Coverley from the Johnson Partnership described how she had to make the judgement to take a colleague and interpreter into the cells that morning to meet a client face to face with the attendant risks.
HHJ Dickenson QC took all opinions on board and we can expect a protocol relevant to Nottingham to be issued within the next day or so.
It is obviously pleasing to be involved in such discussions and feel that the opinions of the defence are valued. While some were vocal that nobody should come to court, issues such as the interests of the client, having a viable justice system at the end of this, and viable practices as well must all be in the mix.
Since finishing the meeting, there has been an announcement that HMCTS have decided that it will adjourn all bail cases except Domestic violence and those that involve children and vulnerable adults. This is likely to be the position for the coming weeks. This in itself may dictate volume of cases before the Crown Court, the majority of defendants appearing there on bail.
If you have any queries about your case and how it may be affected then please contact the solicitor or litigator dealing with your matter.