What effect has the pandemic had on our courts in St Albans?

St Albans Crown Court. Picture: DANNY LOO

St Albans Crown Court. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

Offenders still need dealing with and jury service is calling, but how is COVID-19 and social distancing affecting the justice system in St Albans district?

St Albans has two courts - crown and magistrates - the crown court deals with more serious offences and the magistrates court can give out maximum jail sentences of a year.

When people across the county are charged with offences, they rarely go to court straight away.

That means there is always a list of hearings for minor and major breaches of the law scheduled for St Albans crown or magistrates court that need to go ahead.

Since the pandemic, social distancing and the threat of COVID-19 have significantly affected the judicial system.

There are three categories of how the courts are currently running, with St Albans crown court being ‘staffed’. It is not open to the public and no hearings are taking place.

St Albans crown court trials were temporarily adjourned on March 23.

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Juries have now been sworn in at Manchester Minshull Street, Bristol, Cardiff and The Old Bailey, with more due to re-start at an unknown date.

Magistrates courts across the country are either ‘open’ or ‘suspended’ at the moment.

St Albans magistrates court is open for essential face-to-face hearings only.

In a statement Mr Justice Edis chair of the jury trials working group said: “Further work is planned to enable jury trials to proceed in additional courts around the country as well as to improve communication around the safety measures that are currently in place in our courts.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:

“We have been working closely with the judiciary to safely continue thousands of hearings during the pandemic.

“We are prioritising urgent cases, increasing our capacity to hear cases remotely, and resuming jury trials in those courts where it is safe to do so.”