The Bar of Ireland has put forward a number of proposals for how criminal jury trials could resume safely in courts during the COVID-19 emergency, including convening potential jurors in other venues such as hotels.
In a submission to the Courts Service, the organisation says the suspension of jury trials is likely to exacerbate current delays in the system and cause a considerable backlog of cases to build up.
“The interests of victims of crime as well as the concomitant right of an accused to an expeditious trial demand the safe resumption of jury trials within a reasonable timeframe,” the submission says.
The submission, made by a Sub-Committee of the Criminal & State Bar Committee, proposes using technology to improve the efficiency of jury selection procedures, removing the need to physically assemble a large number of people in a court room or jury assembly area each morning.
In cases where a court building does not allow for the safe gathering of a jury, it suggests convening potential jurors in larger nearby spaces such as theatres or nearby hotel ballrooms so that they can be brought to the courts in smaller groups at staggered intervals.
The Bar of Ireland committee says jury members could be also selected in a larger venue near the court with only those selected reconvening in court for the trial.
The submission also suggests that jury boxes could be reconfigured to hold fewer people, with remaining jurors spread around the court room.
It adds that perspex or plexiglass sheets could be placed in the jury box to ensure that jurors are partitioned from one another, or juries could be allowed to deliberate in empty courtrooms or large rooms in nearby venues.
“If court rooms cannot be re-configured for social distancing, other venues could be used, if they are in public ownership or venues hired, such as convention halls, lecture theatres, ballrooms in hotels, cinemas or theatres,” the Bar committee says.
It rules out for now, however, temporarily reducing jury numbers below 12 or abolishing challenges to jurors.
The submission stresses that there is “a special onus” on the Courts Service to protect the health of jurors.