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Coronavirus fears lead to ban on new trials involving jury

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Move: Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan

Move: Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan

Move: Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan

No new jury trials will be held in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future, the Lord Chief Justice has said.

But jurors serving in a Crown Court trial or an inquest that has already started should continue to attend.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan's office said there will be no new jury trials from tomorrow "until further notice".

According to a letter from chairman of the Law Society Pearse MacDermott to all legal practitioners here, the legal system is facing an unprecedented situation which is "extraordinary and fluid".

The letter reveals it has been agreed that if any member of the public - including defendants, witnesses and lawyers - is self-isolating or "has concern about attending court", they will not face sanctions for not going.

The letter also outlines how:

  • Contests in the Magistrates Courts are unlikely to proceed.
  • Lawyers do not have to attend police interviews, but rather can give advice over the phone.
  • Some cases can be dealt with without the need for a defendant to attend.
  • Lawyers who do go to court should sit on every other seat to not allow the infection to spread.

The court is also looking at technology such as Skype to allow courts to sit with virtual attendance by lawyers.

Kevin Winters, leading partner at KRW Law, welcomed the "pragmatic and proportionate" measures but maintains "there is a need for lateral and outside-the-box thinking" for changes in how the justice system works.

Sinn Fein MP and lawyer John Finucane said: "This is a timely and practical development which will hopefully help reduce the transmission of Covid-19."

Belfast Telegraph