To date there have been eight jury trials heard at Winchester Crown Court since the lockdown has eased, and from this week a second court room has been set up with social distancing measures to allow for more cases to be heard.
From 13 July, Winchester Crown Court also saw the return of its first High Court Judge since the courts were closed due to the pandemic, with a second High Court Judge due to hear another case from 16 July.
The large courtrooms at Winchester Crown Court has enabled two metre spacing to be set up in the courtroom. One courtroom is used for the case and another one used for jurors. Changes have been made to ensure that jurors are kept safe whilst in court including creating the space so that they can socially distance in the courtroom and the jury return to a second courtroom for their deliberations. Jurors are being provided with face coverings, bringing their own water bottles and have been given guidance on bringing their own holy book to swear the oath if they wish to do so.
Portsmouth Crown Court also started taking jury trials from 6 July and Southampton is planning to open soon, both of which are putting in social distancing measures similar to those in Winchester.
Judge Cutler, Resident Judge at Winchester Crown Court commented on the changes made in court to enable cases to be heard again and to protect staff and the jury: “Court staff have worked very hard and continue to do so to get Winchester Crown Court back up and running as quickly as possible since the easing of lockdown.
“Members of the public have been marvellous and have adhered to the measures that have been put in place to keep them as jurors and court staff safe and well.
“The new measures are working well and everyone is focussed on getting the courts up and running in the safest way possible. We would of course normally be running more cases, so even with the additional court being opened up there will inevitably be some delay. We are doing the best we can locally to ensure we get cases heard again as quickly and safely as possible.
“We are exploring other buildings in the area where cases could be heard and there continues to be national discussions on other ways to progress cases through the courts again to reduce the number of outstanding cases.”
Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, Chair of the Local Criminal Justice Board commented on the gradual return of the hearings in court: “It is good news that courts across the area are starting to get back up and running, and this week Winchester Court will be increasing its capacity even further to hear the most serious cases.
“This is the start of the journey for the courts in addressing the delays as a result of closures during the coronavirus pandemic and our partners working in the courts have the full support of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB) in finding solutions to reduce the number of outstanding cases.
“The LCJB is committed to improve outcomes for both victims of crime and people who offend and will continue to collectively, across the whole system, adapt and respond to the challenges we face because of the pandemic to achieve this.”