Criminal defence & appeals team: Policy on physical attendance of counsel in criminal cases

Garden Court North Chambers supports an effective and fair criminal justice system within which the security of defendants, witnesses, court staff, and lawyers should be safeguarded to the highest degree and not exposed to serious public health risks.

The Garden Court North Chambers criminal defence and appeals team considers that the current demands for physical attendance at Magistrates and Crown Court centres are precipitous and represent a casual disregard for public health. At present, we consider that all parties in criminal cases should be permitted to attend all non-trial hearings remotely and that jury trials should not yet commence.

No GCN criminal barrister or pupil will be expected or required to attend the criminal court in person for any purpose unless and until we consider that it is safe to do so. This Policy will continue in force until we are satisfied that that the risk from the virus has sufficiently abated, the MoJ and the criminal courts have fully complied with Public Health England requirements regarding cleanliness, social distancing and the provision of PPE and proper account has been taken of safeguarding in travel arrangements.

The MoJ and judiciary are keen to reduce the growing backlog of cases. GCN wishes to stress that this backlog was not created by the effects of the Coronavirus outbreak but has existed for a considerable time as the direct result of austerity measures. Drastic reductions in the number of judicial sitting days contributed to a backlog of thousands of trials long before lockdown. At the same time, catastrophically reduced investment in a broken criminal justice system over years has resulted in neglected, unhygienic and often empty courtrooms in buildings with dilapidated facilities many of which were no longer fit for purpose.

Individual members will make their own decisions regarding attendance in person and will continue to work closely with all of our instructing solicitors, lay clients and court staff and with the support of our Practice Management Team. However, Queen’s Counsel at GCN will provide immediate and active support for any member or pupil who does not feel able to safely attend or remain in attendance at any court centre, including appearing on their behalf before judges.

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