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Zoom trials considered to help clear huge backlog of cases

The Justice Secretary has said he is considering allowing jurors to take part in trials over Zoom as the backlog of cases in British courts rises due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Coronavirus has exacerbated the backlog issue, with some barristers saying that justice has effectively ground to a halt.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Robert Buckland said he was considering allowing cases to be conducted via video and was thinking about cutting the numbers of jurors from 12 to seven in order to get the courts moving again.

“The Zoom jury where twelve men and women are all sitting together in one place remotely, working together but viewing all the evidence,” he said.

“I’ve seen a lot of mock trials taking place and spoken to the participants and have been impressed by the work that’s been done there.

“I’m going to have to use every tool in the book in order to deliver the swift justice that victims, witnesses and the public would want us to see if they are to have continuing confidence in our court system.”

Zoom calls have already been used in the US to conduct trials, although some fear that they could unfairly advantage wealthier clients and law firms who can more easily pay for good lighting and stable internet connections.

Nevertheless, many cases currently held up by the shuttered courts could lead to further incarceration of innocent individuals awaiting trial along with many other calamities.

As the Covid-19 outbreak took hold, prosecutors were urged to delay bringing some charges to court to avoid clogging up the system. It was also suggested that some suspects could be released on bail for longer periods before they were due to face charges to help the system cope.

A handful of crown courts in England and Wales have now reopened for trials with strict social distancing measures in place, but the majority of hearings are still being held online or having to be postponed.

Labour has called for trials to take place in empty university lecture halls, schools and leisure centres to help an “incapacitated system” and said the Government needs an emergency plan to maintain open justice and make sure there are lasting improvements after the pandemic.

Online streaming of court cases should become the norm so the justice system is more open, transparent and fair, the party also said.

Buckland admitted to the programme that, “We need to do more and I want to go further than just managing the caseload, bearing in mind the caseload has increased somewhat and we need to eat into that and that will take quite a few months this year and next year.

“So I am indeed actively examining potential change, but limiting it for the period that would be strictly necessary and not the sort of change that would in any way be permanent or would be allowed to be permanent by Parliament.”

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