GOING BACK INTO COURT: MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF A SOCIALLY DISTANCED TRIAL
Yesterday I had my first experience since “lockdown” of going back into a court building to do a trial. I did a series of tweets about it and they have had some attention. That is why i thought it best to put them on the blog.
(Your seat in the courtroom is clearly marked – and they let you take it home again aftterwards)
WHAT WENT ON?
- The “pre-trial” conference was held remotely the afternoon before the trial. This enabled the client to know me to discuss the procedure involved.
- Usually I am keen to get to court early. However with social distancing we adopted a “just in time” model, rather than risk waiting around for any extensive time.
- Getting into the court (Leeds) was easy. I downloaded the pass from the Bar Council. This is on my phone, it is scanned and you are then allowed in without being searched. (I know this facility is only available to barristers at the moment).
- The court itself was quiet. There were two civil trials going ahead (on different floors).
- The seating outside the court is socially distanced with many seats being blocked to prevent sitting (there were, however, enough seats to go around.
- I didn’t try the conference rooms. These are extremely small. There were socially distanced conference facilities available in the cafeteria area.
- We were not robed.
- In the court room every person present had their seat allocated and it had their name on it. We were in a criminal court. Counsel were sitting on opposite ends of different benches. One solicitor was behind. The Defendant’s solicitor and witnesses were sitting at socially distanced intervals in the jury box. The claimant’s witnesses were seated apart in the public gallery area.
- Water was available (in bottles) in the courtroom. Hand sanitizer was also available.
- Skeletons and authorities had been sent in remotely.
- The toilets in the courthouse were open and operating under social distancing policies.
- Because the claimant’s witnesses and solicitors were so far apart a Whatsapp group was set up to allow the claimant to raise matters with solicitor and counsel during the trial (as opposed to the traditional written note and tug on the gown). This was explained to the judge at the outset and it didn’t cause any difficulty. (Phones had to be on silence, needless to say).
- There was a physical bundle. However each witness had to put on gloves (supplied by the court) before they took the oath and touched the bundle itself.
- The court had a “one way” system operating in and out of the building.
- Only one person in the lift at a time.
- There were cleaners working throughout the building throughout the say (based on what I could see). They were paying particular attentions to doorhandles and surfaces.
Finally a reminder to all concerned that it is tiring. The travelling to court, parking and things we are not used to, added to the strain of social distancing, means that your lack of match fitness could be exposed.