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Sports halls and hotel conference rooms could be used as venues for court hearings to help clear the backlog of cases caused by coronavirus measures, the lord chief justice has said.
Lord Burnett of Maldon told the House of Commons justice committee that such venues are most likely to be used in civil, family and tribunal proceedings.
He added that all courts could be open again by the end of June (“with a little bit of luck”), although existing courts might struggle to meet demand as they implement social distancing measures. The Law Society Gazette reports that there are already 1,400 cases waiting to go from the magistrates’ court to the Crown court.
Lord Burnett commented: “[Alternative accommodation] is being looked at and might provide an opportunity for courts to be freed up to be used for the cases that really can’t be dealt with anywhere else.”
He added that discussions were ongoing to ensure trials can go ahead within social distancing guidelines. Possible options include seven-person juries and implementing judge-led trials. Lord Burnett warned that failure to assess possible alternatives risked adding substantially to a case logjam that “will take a very long time to clear”.
He added that funding for potential innovations was the cause of some “nervousness”.
“Administration of justice has been something of a Cinderella over the last decades,” he said. “Its funding has never been lavish, its funding has never been protected because it is a subpart of the Ministry of Justice whose funding was not protected.”