The lord chief justice has said that ministers should consider limiting the availability of jury trials if court delays become unmanageable.
Lord Burnett of Maldon expected no change to the way that serious charges — such as rape and murder — were tried in England and Wales. The least serious offences would continue to be decided by magistrates.
But between those extremes were cases — such as assault, theft and burglary — that could be tried either by magistrates or by a judge and jury. At present, a defendant charged with one of these so-called ‘either-way’ offences can insist on jury trial.
Lord Burnett told the BBC Radio 4 programme Law in Action: ‘A possibility that I believe is worthy of consideration by policymakers is to legislate to enable, for a short time, the disposal of either-way trials in the Crown court by a judge sitting with two magistrates.
Lord Burnett suggest ministers consider temporary curbs on right to jury for ‘either way’ offences. ‘That would retain the lay public involvement in trials, but give rise to none of the difficulties of social distancing that attach to having a jury involved in a trial.’