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Resident judge initiates ‘Plan B’ remote hearings to reduce footfall

By Gazette Reporters >>

(13 December 2021)

All plea and trial preparation hearings will be conducted remotely at Canterbury Crown Court following the government’s introduction of ‘Plan B’ to tackle the rising number of coronavirus cases, the resident judge has said in an update welcomed by the criminal bar.

However some London courts appeared to be operating as normal this morning following the lord chief justice’s announcement last Thursday.  Two trials in the Queen’s Bench Division are listed as in-person only at the Royal Courts of Justice while at least 10  courts in the Rolls Building are in use.

However, the majority of listed hearings in the RCJ and the Rolls Building are remote and almost all non-trial work at the Old Bailey and Southwark Crown Court is being conducted via the cloud video platform.

The Law Society confirmed that its Chancery Lane HQ remains open for people wishing to visit the library or restaurant. Admissions ceremonies continue as normal this week. The library is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, until 22 December. 

At Canterbury, according to an update from His Honour Judge Simon James, headlined ‘Plan B @ Canterbury Crown Court’, defendants in custody cases will continue to attend via video link from prison. However, defendants’ attendance will be excused in bail cases. 

Full instructions should be taken in advance so a ‘meaningful and constructive’ case management hearing can take place. If there is an indication of a guilty plea in a bail case, the matter will be listed for plea and sentence in the new year. If a not guilty plea is indicated, a case management timetable will be set out.

HHJ James said: ‘Obviously it is in everyone’s best interest if we can avoid listing unnecessary trials, so could I please ask that if the reality is that an advocate has no or inadequate instructions that an application is made to adjourn the PTPH to allow full instructions to be taken, rather than allowing the fixing of a trial timetable when it may be that a contested hearing will not be necessary.’

He added: ‘I hope that this temporary measure will reduce the number of people having to travel to court to the absolute minimum and we will obviously review things again for the new year, once we have more detailed guidance.’

The Criminal Bar Association welcomed the judge’s ‘reasonable approach’, which it hopes is adopted by all courts. ‘We continue our push for a national protocol but welcome the support for the bar from resident judges,’ it added.

(Courtesy: The Law Soceity Gazette)