Due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 every part of daily life has been impacted one way or another. Considerable coverage in the media regarding the NHS has been given and everyone appreciates the efforts and dedication of the doctors, nurses and support staff who place themselves at risk to care and treat others. Other parts of our society have also suffered. Not least amongst them is the criminal justice system. Those facing criminal charges and those who have been victims of crime have unfortunately seen the cases before the courts delayed.
The court system has made efforts to try to deal with as much work as possible. Priority being given to those appearing in custody and those cases that involve serious offences. However, many trials have been delayed and a significant back log has built up. Many commentators and legal professionals argue the criminal justice system has been underfunded for a considerable time. Many cases pending trial were already taking a long time even before the current COVID-19 crisis. Now the government is looking at ways to tackle this.
For a victim of crime or an innocent person wrongly or falsely accused to wait before their case can be resolved can result in enormous anxiety and fear. That anxiety and fear can impact upon their health and wellbeing as significantly as serious physical illness.
Consideration is being given to many ideas. From extended court sittings into the evening, use of other buildings where courts could be held to the removal of a jury from the trial process. The last suggestion being considered reflects the huge difficulty in having 12 people sat in close quarters making decisions about their fellow citizens together with all the court staff, lawyers and witnesses whilst maintaining a safe environment and social distancing. Some cases have recently started using the court building in such as way so as to achieve the measures necessary.
Changes to the law allowing trials in the Crown Court without a jury need to be very carefully considered.
Whatever the pressures on the criminal justice system currently and pre-existed well before the corona virus was heard of, Parliament and the public should consider the issue with the greatest of care before change to such a fundamental cornerstone of the justice system is made.
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