We are living in unprecedented times and the amount of information being sent out presents huge challenges just keeping up with it. For clarity we seek to provide updates in relation to changes within the Criminal Justice System as we receive them on this web page.

  • 23 March 2020

All none urgent Magistrates Court cases have been postponed in Merseyside due to the Coronavirus pandemic as of 24 March 2020. This is so that the Government’s advice in relation to social distancing can be complied with, particularly in court waiting areas.  All NGAP and GAP cases, private prosecutions and Youth listings will be adjourned as will all none custody trials.  Overnight remand cases, urgent applications, custody trials and  video link cases will remain in the list.

Custody remands will be heard at each area.  Wherever possible the Court are contacting defendants to let them know of the postponement of the case but they do not have contact details for every person.

  • 26 March 2020 

All Crown Court cases sitting at Liverpool today and tomorrow, the 26th and 27th March, have been vacated and are to be re-listed to a date in the future. The Court will notify Solicitors and Defendants of this new date once listed.

In relation to Court hearings week commencing the 30 March 2020 it is expected that for most, if not all hearings, the parties will appear remotely by video link. That is the court’s default approach so that save in exceptional circumstances only the judge and court staff will be present in the court room.

No jury trials will be conducted until further notice. All other types of hearing, will continue to be listed as normal whether the Defendant is in custody or on bail.

Until further notice, a Defendant on bail is not required to attend any hearing (in person or remotely by video link) unless a prior specific direction has been given that attendance is necessary, though such a Defendant can choose to attend court in person or remotely if suitable arrangements are made by the Defendant’s legal representatives for a video link. It is expected that a Defendant in custody will attend the hearing remotely by the prison video link (PVL).

During the current crisis and until further notice, where a guilty plea is entered or indicated at the PTPH, the sentencing court will be satisfied that there were particular circumstances which made it unreasonable to expect the Defendant to indicate a guilty plea sooner, and a reduction in sentence of one-third will be made. (This indication is, of course, subject to any adverse finding following a Newton Hearing and/or the requirements of any minimum or prescribed sentence provisions.)

Though operating a reduced service, we understand that the Probation Service can provide pre-sentence reports.  Interviews with Defendants for the purposes of PSRs are to be conducted by phone or Skype. Where such a report is ordered by the court, the Defendant will be required to confirm or provide contact details at the hearing.

Impromptu modifications to this approach may be necessary depending on the requirements of individual cases. This guidance will be kept under constant review as the situation develops and in the light of further directions from the Lord Chief Justice.

  • 27 March 2020

The Magistrate Court  are postponing all non-urgent cases listed next week.

All NGAP and GAP cases, private prosecutions, Domestic Abuse cases and Youth listings etc will be adjourned as will all bail trials.  Overnight remand cases, urgent applications, custody trials and video link cases will remain in the court list. Where cases are being rescheduled, defendants will be sent new dates of hearing through the post.

  • 28 March 2020 

All voluntary interviews at the Police Station have been postponed, these will be rearranged at a time when Government restrictions have been lifted.

  • 30 March 2020 

Merseyside Police have advised that there will be improved communication with Solicitors in relation to all pre charge matters in an aim to reduce unnecessary journeys to the Police Station.

Some clients will still need to attend for charge where the risk remains high and removing bail conditions isn’t appropriate.  Where possible they will seek to postal charge.

  • 31 March 2020 

Merseyside Police have taken extra steps to protect those who visit and work in the custody establishment. These steps have been taken in line with current Public Health England Advice and with regard to advice from the National Police Chiefs Council.

Measures in place to maximise safeguarding include the following;

  • Healthcare practitioners are present in the custody suites 24hrs per day and are on hand to provide the custody team with healthcare advice.
  • Merseyside Police is following NPCC guidance in relation to times when a suspect interview may not be required or that technology may be used to facilitate legal representation in interview.
  • By the 2nd April 2020 Skype Video Conferencing facilities should be installed in the interview rooms so to permit legal representative’s to dial in to the interview remotely and if necessary to have a video disclosure with the interviewing officer should this be necessary. Telephone disclosure remains possible as does the ability to dial in to the interview in an audio only manner.
  • Where a traditional interview is necessary and the interview room seating can be adjusted to maximise social distancing then this should be done.

Prison visits are temporarily suspended following instructions for people to stay at home. There are a number of other ways to contact someone in prison if you are unable to visit them. For example you might be able to leave a voice message using the Prison Voicemail Service or send them an email using the email a prisoner service. You can also write to them. As a temporary measure, secure phone handsets will be given to prisoners at 55 prisons allowing risk-assessed prisoners to speak to a small number of pre-authorised contacts.

All face-to-face Parole Board hearings and new jury trials have been temporarily suspended. The Parole Board will progress cases through a combination of remote hearings and a paper review process, sometimes combined with case management hearings.

  • 1 April 2020

The National Police Chief’s Council and CPS  have provided guidance regarding a change of protocol in charging decisions. The Senior Presiding Judge has set out guidelines governing health and safety which must be in place in the Crown Courts, ahead of them operating normally. The same principles must apply to the Magistrates’ Courts. It follows that there must be careful consideration of what new offences are fed into the system and how those offences are progressed.

This interim protocol sets out how cases should be managed by the police and the CPS by identifying three categories of cases:
A. IMMEDIATE – CUSTODY AND ALL COVID-19 RELATED CASES
B. HIGH PRIORITY CASES – NON-CUSTODY BAIL CASES
C. OTHER CASES – RELEASED UNDER INVESTIGATION OR NO ARREST REQUIRED

Please see separate guidance headed ‘NPCC and CPS  re: charging decisions’ for an explanation of how these cases might be categorised, tables with case type examples and explanations for why these types fit into a particular priority category.

  • 3 April 2020 

A custody interview protocol has been agreed between the CPS, NPCC, the Law Society, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association. The Home Office has also been consulted. The signatories to this protocol accept that the practices and procedures contained here amount to a reasonable interpretation of the law to enable the rights and interests of detained persons to be protected during the unprecedented circumstances of the Coronavirus crisis.

A suspect interview will almost always be a reasonable line of enquiry in a criminal investigation, but the Covid-19 related challenges may make that difficult if not impossible in some cases. In some cases interviews may have to take place at a later date, in some cases special arrangements will have to be made and in a few cases it may not be possible to interview before a charging decision is made (although it may be possible to then seek a prepared statement from a suspect).

In the current circumstances relating to the Covid-19 challenge, the parties to this protocol have agreed that the video-link facilities available under Code C of PACE to police officers and interpreters should also be available to defence representatives. Telephone consultations with defence representatives should also be used whenever possible (and that may include the provision of prepared statements), but this protocol does not include any agreement as to the use of telephone for a formal suspect interview because such links are not available under PACE for police officers and interpreters.

  • 8 April 2020 

HMCTS, Cheshire/Merseyside Police and the CPS have been working towards video remand hearings for overnight arrests. The project is presently being tested upon but it is hoped that HMCTS will be able to allocate slots for such hearings in due course.

  • 16 April 2020 

Magistrates Courts in Cheshire and Merseyside are starting to deal with Priority 2 work which includes trials or hearings in the following categories:

  • Any public health or coronavirus related prosecutions (inc breaches of restrictions or requirements imposed to protect public health, and other criminal activity designed to exploit the situation)
  • Sensitive/high profile cases and cases involving children and vulnerable witnesses/victims
  • Any serious and time-sensitive Youth Cases (e.g. where delay might mean a relevant age-threshold was crossed)
  • Custody trials
  • 30 April 2020

We would mention one other factor of relevance.  We are hearing this Reference at the end of April 2020, when the nation remains in lock-down as a result of the Covid-19 emergency.  The impact of that emergency on prisons is well-known.  We are being invited in this Reference to order a man to prison nine weeks after he was given a suspended sentence, when he has complied with his curfew and has engaged successfully with the Probation Service.  The current conditions in prisons represent a factor which can properly be taken into account in deciding whether to suspend a sentence.  In accordance with established principles, any court will take into account the likely impact of a custodial sentence upon an offender and, where appropriate, upon others as well.  Judges and magistrates can, therefore, and in our judgement should, keep in mind that the impact of a custodial sentence is likely to be heavier during the current emergency than it would otherwise be.  Those in custody are, for example, confined to their cells for much longer periods than would otherwise be the case – currently, 23 hours a day.  They are unable to receive visits.  Both they and their families are likely to be anxious about the risk of the transmission of Covid-19.

Applying ordinary principles, where a court is satisfied that a custodial sentence must be imposed, the likely impact of that sentence continues to be relevant to the further decisions as to its necessary length and whether it can be suspended.  Moreover, sentences can and should also bear in mind the Reduction in Sentence Guideline.  That makes clear that a guilty plea may result in a different type of sentence or enable a Magistrates’ Court to retain jurisdiction, rather than committing for sentence.

Christopher Manning

  • 11 May 2020 

Jury trials to resume this month. The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon, following discussion with the Lord Chancellor, has now decided that new jury trials may be started in a few courts in the week commencing May 18th under special arrangements to maintain the safety of all participants and the jury in line with Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines.

The first courts in which new juries can be sworn will include the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey in London and Cardiff Crown Court.  Arrangements to allow appropriate distancing to be maintained at all times include providing a second courtroom, linked by closed circuit TV, to enable reporters and others to watch the proceedings, and another court room to use for jury deliberations.  Courts staff will ensure that entrances and exits are carefully supervised, and that all necessary cleaning takes place.

The trials will be conducted under the same legal standards and procedures as before the COVID-19 emergency, with twelve jurors.  Jury service is an essential part of criminal justice and jurors perform a vital duty.

  • 11 June 2020 

Updates on Courts due to reopen Monday 15 June 2020

London

  • Harrow Crown Court

Midlands

  • Coventry Combined – Crown only
  • Hereford Justice Centre
  • Lincoln County Court
  • Shrewsbury Crown Court/Justice Centre
  • Walsall County and Family Court
  • Worcester Combined Court
  • Worcester Justice Centre

North East

  • Beverley Magistrates and Family Court
  • Bradford and Keighley Magistrates and Family Court
  • Bradford Combined Court
  • Doncaster Justice Centre South
  • Durham Crown Court
  • Gateshead Law Courts
  • Grimsby Combined Court Centre
  • Newcastle Civil and Family Courts and Tribunals Centre
  • Newcastle Moot Hall
  • Scarborough Justice Centre
  • Sunderland County, Family Magistrates and Tribunals
  • York Magistrates and Family Court

North West

  • Chester Crown Court
  • Crewe Magistrates Court and County Court – Magistrates only
  • Preston Magistrates Court

South East

  • Basildon Magistrates Court
  • Bedford County and Family Court
  • Hastings Law Courts
  • King’s Lynn Crown Court and Magistrates Court
  • Margate Magistrates Court (and Thanet County)
  • Sevenoaks Magistrates Court
  • Slough County Court
  • Staines Law Courts
  • Worthing Law Courts – Magistrates only
  • Yarl’s Wood Immigration and Asylum Hearing Centre

South West

  • Isle of Wight Combined (and Magistrates) – County and Family (Magistrates and Crown) already open
  • North Somerset Courthouse

Wales

  • Aberystwyth Justice Centre
  • Blackwood Civil and Family Court
  • Cwmbran Magistrates Court
  • Newport County and Family Court
  • Port Talbot Justice Centre
Click for further details