UK Banks fund specialist fraud police unit to crack down on Covid-19 scams in London
A specialist fraud prevention police unit, funded by the banking industry has executed numerous warrants across London and the UK in a crackdown on criminal activity in sending scam text messages & emails attempting to exploit the coronavirus covid 19 outbreak. Criminal Solicitors need to be aware of the actions and the ambit of this unit.
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in London and the UK, intelligence analysts have monitored a rapid escalation in criminals gangs using a range of fraudulent schemes. More than 500 coronavirus-related frauds and over 2,000 phishing attempts by criminals and criminal gangs seeking to exploit fears over the pandemic have been reported to UK investigators.
The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) is made up of officers from the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police and is responsible for targeting the criminal gangs responsible for fraud.
Over the last few weeks, the DCPCU has targeted criminals & several criminal gangs involved in sending Covid-19 related fraudulent texts & emails to members of the public in London and the UK.
Officers from the DCPCU have executed three search warrants in Leicestershire, Dorset and South East London.
In early April, officers from the DCPCU executed a search warrant at an address in South East London and seized mobile phones and computers as part of an investigation into Covid-19 email scams. In other raids, several mobile phones and SIM cards were seized which police believe were being used to send texts that included links to bogus HMRC sites offering financial support and refunds to assist recipients during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The National Crime Agency, which released its annual threat assessment on Friday 17thApril 2020, said: “We continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic on trends in serious and organised crime, including on fraud, cyber-attacks and other online activity, with the sudden surge in the amount of domestic internet use.”
CPS to downgrade 'less serious' Criminal cases
All criminal solicitors should be aware that the Crown Prosecution Service who are responsible for bringing most Criminal Prosecutions have been asked to prioritise more serious criminal cases and have in mind the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in determining whether criminal charges should be brought in the public interest. Criminal solicitors should be aware that this is in order to help the criminal justice system continue effectively in the face of the difficulties posed by the current pandemic.
Although criminal solicitors and criminal lawyers working for the CPS must always assess whether a prosecution is in the public interest, criminal solicitors should be aware of the new guidance issued today which requests extra consideration be given to the impact of the pandemic in determining whether to bring a criminal prosecution.
Good criminal solicitors should be aware that the CPS will review both existing and new cases on their own merits. Criminal solicitors should be making representations on the available courses of action including community resolution.
Other representations from good criminal solicitors could also mean the CPS accepting a guilty plea to an alternative offence if prosecutors are satisfied that a sentence which meets the seriousness of the offending could be passed.
Criminal solicitors must be aware of the Interview Protocol between:
National Police Chiefs’ Council, Crown Prosecution Service, The Law Society, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association
Purpose of guidance
1. This guidance is intended to assist investigators and prosecutors in deciding whether suspects should be interviewed as part of a police investigation during the Covid-19 pandemic. This guidance will be reviewed monthly as from 1 April 2020 and is intended for use only during the period of the Covid-19 crisis.
2. The Covid-19 outbreak presents an unprecedented challenge for the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales.
3. The spread of Covid-19 and its effect on the numbers of police officers, prosecutors and defence solicitors available for work will require careful consideration of what new offences are brought into the system and how those offences are investigated by the police and progressed through the CJS.
Police interviews; a reasonable line of enquiry
4. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 provides that investigators must pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry, including those which point towards and away from the suspect. In most cases “reasonable lines of enquiry” will require an interview.
5. An interview is generally a reasonable line of enquiry because without it: • The suspect does not have a proper opportunity to provide a full account; • Common defences including self-defence and reasonable excuse are not addressed; • A guilty plea may be anticipated wrongly and anticipating plea generally is more difficult; • The opportunity to draw an adverse inference from silence is lost; • Without admissions in interview, points to prove have to be addressed through other evidence increasing the burden on investigators; • The opportunity to address potential defences by further investigation, and to investigate reasonable lines of enquiry which point away from the suspect, are lost. However, it is recognised that for public health reasons interviews may need to be postponed or even dispensed with. If there is a genuine and pressing need for an interview with all parties present it must be carried out in accordance with government advice on precautionary behaviour, including social distancing. Police interviews with suspects during the Covid-19 crisis
6. Government guidance on social-distancing will affect police interviews with suspects; whether in custody or elsewhere. Interviews with suspects may involve the presence of non-police staff including solicitors, legal representatives, appropriate adults and
interpreters. If the attendance of an appropriate adult is required then that will need to be taken in to account when an interview is being considered; in the circumstances created by the Covid-19 crisis it may not be possible to conduct an interview with a suspect and an appropriate adult, and the alternatives set out in Annex A and Annex B should be considered.
7. It is acknowledged that the Covid-19 crisis involves the application of PACE Code C in circumstances which are unlikely to have previously been anticipated. 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 Covid-19 crisis.
8. The police will have their own guidance about the steps they take to ensure the health and safety of officers, and the suspects and witnesses they deal with. The police have a duty to ensure that all reasonably practicable steps are taken to protect visitors to the custody suite, including legal representatives, from infection with Covid-19. This includes issuing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) where appropriate, and instructions for its use, even where the detainee is not symptomatic.
9. Legal advice for suspects should take place whenever possible over the telephone (for legal advice) and by video link for interviews with suspects. This may depend on the police facilities and devices available. Any existing facilities for links used for interpreters or for remote interviewing by police officers should be considered for use by police officers and defence representatives.
10.When it is not possible to arrange a suspect interview as above then the issues below should be considered. When a suspect cannot be interviewed consideration should also be given to the use of the steps set out in Annex B for a written statement under caution from a suspect in response to a list of questions provided by the interviewing officer.
11.In police premises that are equipped with secure interview rooms with screens that allow for social distancing; those rooms should be utilised for consultations and interviews (using either fixed or portable recording devices approved for interviews).
Interim CPS charging protocol - Covid-19 crisis response (Annex C)
12.The CPS and the police have already published an interim charging protocol as part of the Covid-19 response. The interim protocol sets out how cases should be managed by identifying three categories of cases:
• IMMEDIATE - CUSTODY AND ALL COVID-19 RELATED CASES (Level A)
• HIGH PRIORITY CASES – NON-CUSTODY BAIL CASES (Level B)
• OTHER CASES – RELEASED UNDER INVESTIGATION OR NO ARREST REQUIRED (Level C )
The assessment of the need for an immediate interview must have regard to this three tier categorisation.
Interviews and Level C cases under the CPS interim charging protocol 13.For Level C cases in which suitable arrangements for an interview cannot be made immediately then suspects should be bailed or released under investigation to allow for an interview at a later date unless:
• cases are simple and the other evidence is overwhelming; and
• there is insufficient time for an interview within the six month statutory time limit.
Interviews and Level A and B cases under the CPS interim charging protocol
14.Level A and B cases - the process set out in the flow chart at Annex A is to be used to identify the cases in which an interview should take place and how that should take place. The options are set out as follows in order of preference:
1. Completely virtual interview – all parties dial in to a Custody Laptop with OIC in interview room recording and suspect in VC room.
2. Partial virtual interview – OIC and Interviewee in interview room, Legal Rep appears via a video link.
3. All parties physically required due to the serious nature of the case – all persons will be issued with the appropriate PPE and given instructions on how to use this.
4. Save for the circumstances set out at the top of Annex A, a charge without interview should only be considered in exceptional circumstances when the options above are unavailable. Before this takes place consideration should also be given to the use of the steps set out in Annex B for a written statement under caution from a suspect in response to a list of questions provided by the interviewing officer.
Criminal solicitors should be aware that Professor Richard Coker MB BS, MSc, MD, FRCP, FFPH had been asked by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust to provide his expert opinion on Coronavirus in Prisons.
In the summary, Professor Coker confirms that:
1. The prevention of outbreaks in prisons will be easier than trying to control an outbreak once it has occurred.
2. The real case numbers are far greater in the UK than those that have been documented.
3. Fatality rates around the world appear to be higher where there is a rapid spread and the breakdown of, or lack of access to, health care services.
4. Now that prisoners & prison workers have developed disease, further exposure to others in the system is almost inevitable.
5. In the longer term all prisons are very likely to experience outbreaks.
6. The risk of exposure of the virus to prisoners and staff when new cases enter a prison is much greater than the risk to the public at large
7. Social distancing control measures are virtually impossible in a prison setting with sanitation limitations.
8. Poor access to health care facilities, slow procedures to diagnose, isolate, and treat patients, or quarantine contacts would further reduce the time to peak incidence.
9. Prison should be a last resort only & those facing criminal proceedings who need not be incarcerated and who could conduct social distancing in the community under appropriate supervision should not be imprisoned .
10. Where incarceration is deemed necessary, stringent measures should be taken to protect prisoners and staff.
Criminal solicitors and others can read the full report here.
All criminal solicitors should be aware that prison visits have been temporarily suspended following instructions for people to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
Other ways to contact someone in prison if you are unable to visit them:
> leave a voice message using the Prison Voicemail Service or
> send them an email using the email a prisoner service or
"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".
CORONAVIRUS CRISIS PROTOCOL FOR THE EFFECTIVE HANDLING OF CUSTODY TIME LIMIT CASES IN THE MAGISTRATES’ AND THE CROWN COURT BETWEEN THE SENIOR PRESIDING JUDGE (SPJ), HM COURTS & TRIBUNALS SERVICE, AND THE CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE
1. The Covid-19 outbreak presents an unprecedented challenge for the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales. The scale and seriousness of the situation presents significant difficulties to the criminal court process and means it cannot operate in the way it does normally.
2. The purpose of this Protocol is to set a temporary framework during the Coronavirus pandemic for the efficient and expeditious handling of cases that involve a Custody Time Limit (CTL). It does not create legal obligations or restrictions on (any) party. Unless stated otherwise this protocol applies to both magistrates’ courts and Crown Court cases. The Protocol will be reviewed monthly by the SPJ who will determine when it will cease
3. There is a joint duty on HMCTS and the CPS to ensure that whenever possible cases in which defendants are awaiting trial are dealt with within the Custody Time Limits set out in section 22 Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 and the Prosecution of Offences (Custody Time Limits) Regulations 1987. In the circumstances created by the Coronavirus pandemic it may not be possible for trials to take place within the CTLs and this protocol sets out some of the considerations and processes to be used in such cases.
4. The CPS and HMCTS will share lists of current CTL cases and CTL expiry dates every two weeks/monthly so that CTL cases can be kept under review by all parties to this Protocol.
5. This Protocol does not override independent judicial discretion and every case must be decided on its own merits. The Protocol contains rules of practice only and the relevant law is unaffected. The judge responsible for deciding each application will apply the law.
Listing of CTL cases
6. On any occasion a case with a CTL is Iisted for mention, a remand hearing, or otherwise, the Custody Time Limit and any extension should be considered even if a written notice has not been served in advance of that hearing
7. No CTL case should be adjourned without a future date and during the period that this Protocol is in operation that date should not be for trial but for mention or further remand, at which the case should be reviewed to ensure the PTPH staged process is being complied with so that the case will be trial ready and capable of immediate listing when courts permit.
8. New and current CTL cases where a trial date has yet to be set should not be fixed for trial until trial courts are operating again and CTL extensions should be considered at an early stage in such cases. At every hearing the case must be reviewed and the CTL expiry date must be agreed in open court and recorded on CPS and court records.
9. If listing CTL cases for trial, alternative venues should be considered when necessary including courts in different court circuits, HMCTS regions and CPS areas.
10. In listing trials priority usually should be given to CTL trials over cases in which defendants are on bail save for exceptional cases such as those involving a young witness under the age of ten.
11. Wherever possible live links both audio and video should be considered for defendants,
witnesses, parties to the proceedings and the court in CTL trials.
12. In CTL trials all parties will consider, and the court will encourage whenever appropriate, the agreement of evidence under sections 9 and 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967,the use of the hearsay provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the provisions for expert evidence in absence contained in section 30 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
13. As set out in section 22(3) Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, the court can only extend the custody time limit if it is satisfied that the need for the extension is due to:
a. the illness or absence of the accused, a necessary witness, a judge or a magistrate;
b. postponement which is occasioned by the ordering by the court of separate trials in
case of two or more accused persons, or two or more charges; or
c. some other good and sufficient cause,
d. AND in respect of any of the foregoing the prosecution has acted with all due
diligence and expedition.
14. When considering the illness or absence of the accused or a necessary witness the court will note the government’s advice on self- isolation and avoiding visits to hospitals and medical practices; medical certificates will not be available in most cases and should not be insisted upon unless there is specific information or history to indicate the illness or absence is not genuine. For defendants in custody HM Prisons and Probation Service will provide the court with a written record of the reason for the defendant’s absence and where this is due to illness confirm if the defendant has been seen by medical staff.
15. The coronavirus pandemic is an exceptional situation and the adjournment of CTL trials as a consequence of government health advice and of directions made by the Lord Chief Justice amounts to good and sufficient cause to extend the custody time limit. As at the date of the adoption of this Protocol this issue has been judicially determined in this way in a significant number of cases and subject to any decision to the contrary on appeal, the Protocol accurately states the approach of the court.
16. The CPS will be using a CTL application similar to that annexed to this protocol as Annex A. The case chronology to be provided will be short and concise where the sole cause of adjournments and the need for CTL extensions are a consequence of the Coronavirus pandemic and not a result of prosecution delay. Where it is arguable that the trial would not have been effective, irrespective of the Coronavirus pandemic, because the prosecution has not acted with all due diligence and expedition then the application should be made in the usual format containing the full chronology.
17. In magistrates’ courts cases consideration should be given to the likely sentence if convicted, given that an extended period on remand could exceed that sentence.
18. If a CTL extension is not granted by the Crown Court and the CTL is about to expire, then in accordance with Rule 6(6) the Prosecution of Offences (Custody Time Limits) Regulations 1987 (and subject to section 25 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 exclusion of bail in certain cases of homicide and rape), the court will grant bail with or without conditions in accordance with the Bail Act 1976, as from the expiry of the CTL, subject to a duty to appear before the Crown Court for trial.
19. If a CTL extension is granted the courts will extend the CTLs (and list the cases for mention) in the first instance to a date after 1 May 2020 (and thereafter to such dates as are agreed by all parties to this protocol).
CTL extensions -The process
20. In the Crown Court, the application for the CTL extension should be entered on to the DCS. CPS should then liaise with the local court and Resident Judge regarding any requirements for lodging CTLs. The process will differ, depending on judicial preference.
21. In the magistrates’ court, the procedure will differ depending on timing.
• Where the application will be made in the course of the regular remand hearing. No
additional action needs to be taken administratively other than ensuring the application
is lodged on Court Store .
• Where the application must be made before the next remand hearing the case must be
brought forward by the court office and listed in a video-enabled court.
In either case the application must be uploaded to Court Store with the words “CTL
EXTENSION APPLICATION” and the date of the next hearing in the filename.
22. CPS must submit applications to magistrates courts by emailing to their usual Pre-Court
Where the application requires a special hearing to be listed, CPS must head the email:
“URGENT: CUSTODY TIME LIMIT EXTENSION APPLICATION FOR IMMEDIATE LISTING”.
Where the application is to be heard in the normal remand hearing (see paragraph 21
above) CPS must head the email “URGENT: CUSTODY TIME LIMIT APPLICATION FOR LISTING
ON [REMAND HEARING DATE]
In either case the mail box operator should reply stating “your application has been received
and will be listed on [date].
CPS should escalate failures to respond to applications to the Delivery Manager (or
23. In the event that a defendant is unable to attend either in person or by live link the hearing
at which the application to extend custody time limits is to be made the Court will consider:
• Whether the defendant has waived their right to attend
• Whether exercising its discretion to hear the application in the absence of the accused in
accordance with Rule 14.2(1)(c) Criminal Procedure Rules (CrimPR)if it would be just to
do so in the circumstances.
24. When a defendant is not present either in person or over a live link then they must have
been given the opportunity to make representations under CrimPR 14.2(1)(a)(ii).
25. The court may make a decision to extend CTLs at a hearing in public or in private. (CrimPR
14.2(2).There is no requirement for the parties to attend an unopposed CTL extension
application hearing; such applications can be heard in private in the absence of the parties. If however the court requires further information from either party the court should ensure
that representations are sought from them.
26. The notice periods for a CTL extension (5 days in the Crown Court and 2 days in the
magistrates’ courts) can be shortened by the court (CrimPR14.18(3)).
27. Under the provisions of the Coronavirus Bill/Act the court will be able to conduct a hearing of an application to extend a CTL by live link both audio and video link save for cases in which bail is in dispute or the court is minded to refuse or revoke bail when an audio link may not be used but a video link may be used (sections 57A to 57G of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as amended)
28. Following the passing of the Coronavirus Bill the courts will consider dealing with CTL
extension applications for the duration of the Coronavirus crisis whenever possible as
follows (in order of preference):
• At a hearing in the absence of the parties and the defendant when the application is
unopposed and the defendant has been given the opportunity to make
• At a hearing in the absence of the defendant using an audio live link for prosecution
and defence (save where the defence have indicated they do not oppose);
• At a hearing in the absence of the defendant using a video live link for prosecution
and defence (save where the defence have indicated they do not oppose the
application and do not wish to be present);
• At a hearing at which the defendant is present by video live link and the parties are
present by live link (audio or video as directed by the court).
• When a CTL extension application includes a dispute as to bail such as a bail
application then the court cannot use audio live links but can use video live links for
the defendant and the parties.
• Where the court directs that proceedings are to be conducted wholly as video or
audio proceedings and it is not practicable for the hearing to be broadcast in a court
building, the court may direct that the hearing must take place in private where it is
necessary to do so to secure the proper administration of justice. However, any
hearing held in private must be recorded, where that is practicable, in a manner
directed by the court.
The Rt. Hon Dame Victoria Sharp DBE
President of the Queen’s Bench Division
Chief Executive, HM Courts & Tribunals Service
Deputy Chief Executive and Operations Director
27th March 2020
From the Ministry of Justice:
The work of courts and tribunals will be consolidated into fewer buildings, maintaining the safety of all in the courts and in line with public health advice.
Work is being developed across the entire estate, following enormous changes to everyday life, and capacity for phone and video hearings has been significantly increased.
There will be 157 priority court and tribunal buildings open for essential face-to-face hearings. This represents 42% of the 370 crown, magistrates, county and family courts and tribunals across England and Wales.
The temporary changes, designed in partnership between HM Courts and Tribunals Service and the judiciary will help maintain a core justice system focused on the most essential cases.
They will also ensure effective social distancing for all court users and for cleaning and security work to be focused on fewer buildings.
Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said:
We are facing an unprecedented challenge and the government’s absolute priority is to save lives and protect the NHS.
With each part of our justice system - from police to probation - dependent on one another, it is vital that we keep our courts running.
This will only be done while ensuring the safety of the public, judges, legal professionals, staff and all those attending hearings and I’d like to thank everyone for their extraordinary efforts so far.
The Lord Chief Justice said:
An extraordinary amount of hard work has gone into keeping our justice system functioning. Technology is being used creatively to ensure that many cases can continue. Not everything can be dealt with remotely and so we need to maintain functioning courts.
These temporary adjustments to how we use the court estate will help ensure that we can continue to deal with work appropriately in all jurisdictions whilst safeguarding the well-being of all those who work in and visit the courts.
Media and members of the public will be able to attend priority court hearings in person, if safe to do so in line with Public Health England guidance, thereby ensuring the principle of open justice.
Where this is not possible, judicial consideration will be given to them joining a hearing remotely or a transcript provided afterwards.
In addition, a further 124 court and tribunal buildings will remain closed to the public but open to HM Courts and Tribunal (HMCTS) staff, the judiciary and those from other agencies.
These ‘staffed courts’ will support video and telephone hearings, progress cases without hearings and ensure continued access to justice.
All remaining courts and tribunals will close temporarily.
These measures, which will come into effect from Monday, 30 March 2020, will be kept in place for as long as necessary to comply with government and public health advice and will be reviewed regularly.
"Following instructions for people to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, prison visits are temporarily cancelled.
In recognition of the importance of continued contact with family and to ensure stability in our jails the Government has moved quickly to keep prisoners in touch with their family members by other means.
Secure phone handsets will be given to prisoners at 55 jails. This will enable the approved use of 900 locked SIM card handsets, allowing risk-assessed prisoners to speak to a small number of pre-authorised contacts. The phones will not have internet access.
Strict measures will ensure the phones are not misused with calls being time-limited and monitored closely. Additionally, handsets will include measures to prevent non-secure SIM cards being used.
Prisons and Probation Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said:
These are uniquely challenging times and the decision to end prison visits has not been taken lightly. We know these are important to many prisoners and that they will be concerned for the wellbeing of their family members.
It is therefore right and proportionate that we provide other, controlled ways for them to stay in touch so that they can maintain the close bonds that will ultimately reduce their chances of reoffending when they are released.
I also want to pay tribute to the thousands of staff working tirelessly to keep our prisons safe.
Visits were suspended after the Government took vital steps to limit travel and social interactions in order to limit the spread of the virus.
As well as helping prisoners connect with their families, the phones will give prisoners access to support services such as the Samaritans, therefore reducing their risk of self-harm.
A 2017 review by Lord Farmer found that close ties between prisoners and key family members can significantly reduce their risk of reoffending and creating more misery for victims.
Currently more than 50 prisons across England and Wales have in-cell telephony which allows prisoners to stay in touch with their family members in a controlled and safe manner. The new handsets will make sure this ability is balanced across all prisons, and promote stability in jails without existing in-cell phones.
Alongside the handsets, the Prison Service is also exploring the use of video calls at six pilot sites, to allow prisoners to be called by their families in a secure environment with strict safeguards.
The Ministry of Justice is working closely with Public Health England, the National Health Service and the Department of Health and Social Care to manage the challenges COVID-19 presents.
As with all Government policy at this time, the priority is to protect lives and HMPPS has put in place robust and flexible plans designed to keep all both staff and prisoners as safe as possible. These are reviewed continually."
Ministry Of Justice
Events have continued to move at great speed. I indicated during the course of last week that we would keep them under review. As the Prime Minister has been telling the country, the spread of COVID- 19 has continued to accelerate. The clear message from Government is to take all precautions to avoid unnecessary contact. A review of the arrangements in our courts is called for. This short statement comes to judges, and others, to provide some clarity for the coming few days.
We have put in place arrangements to use telephone, video and other technology to continue as many hearings as possible remotely. We will make best possible use of the equipment currently available; HMCTS is working round the clock to update and add to that. Some hearings, the most obvious being jury trials, cannot be conducted remotely. I have decided that we need to pause jury trials for a short time to enable appropriate precautions to be put in place.
1. My unequivocal position is that no jury trials or other physical hearings can take place unless it is safe for them to do so. A particular concern is to ensure social distancing in court and in the court building.
2. This morning no new trials are to start. Jurors summoned for this week are being contacted to ask them to remain at home, and contact the court they are due to attend. They will only be asked to come in for trials where specific arrangements to ensure safety have been put in place. In some cases, this may mean that jurors may be called in to start a new trial later on Monday. All hearings in the Crown Court that can lawfully take place remotely should do so and other hearings not involving a jury should continue if suitable arrangements can be made to ensure distancing.
3. Efforts to bring existing jury trials to a conclusion should continue. Social distancing in accordance with PHE guidelines must be in place at all times and at all places within the court building. Considerable imagination and flexibility may be needed to achieve that. This is already happening in some Crown Courts. HMCTS will continue to work to ensure that safety measures are in place in all parts of the court building in which trials are already taking place. The basic hygiene arrangements urged upon us by the Prime Minister must be available. Resident Judges, with HMCTS staff, will determine whether a trial can safely be continued.
4. If it is necessary to adjourn trials already underway for a short period to put those safety measures in place, this must be done.
5. The same considerations, in relation to safety, apply to Magistrates’ Courts. Magistrates’ Courts will need to continue to deal with urgent work, in accordance with guidance given by the Judiciary to judges and staff. They are the first court to which all criminal cases are referred. All hearings that can lawfully take place remotely should do so if the facilities exist.
The Lord Burnett of Maldon Lord Chief Justice
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The Lord Chief Justice has set out that the same considerations apply to magistrates’ courts. He highlighted that magistrates’ courts will need to continue to deal with urgent work but that all hearings that can lawfully take place remotely should do so if the facilities exist.
This morning, all advocates instructed by the CPS should be guided by the principles set out by the Lord Chief Justice. If you have concerns about whether it is safe for a hearing to go ahead, or whether cases listed are urgent, please raise these with the legal advisor or judge/magistrate.
CPS senior leaders are this morning urgently discussing all court arrangements with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and other partners, to ensure there is a safe environment for CPS staff, those we instruct to prosecute on our behalf and the public. Further updates will be provided as soon as possible. This includes an assessment of what work it is necessary for the magistrates’ courts to continue to cover.
The Government’s approach is data-led and informed by medical science.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) maintains primary operational leadership of the medical information and response to the virus.
The impact of the public health emergency on the operation of the courts has been under constant review. In all jurisdictions steps are being taken to enable as many hearings as possible to be conducted with some or all of the participants attending by telephone, video-link or online. Many court hearings will be able to continue as normal with appropriate precautions being taken. We must make every effort to maintain a functioning court system in support of the administration of justice and rule of law.
Trials in the Crown Court present particular problems in a fast-developing situation because they require the presence in court of many different participants including the judge, the jury, a defendant, lawyers and witnesses as well as staff. Given the risks of a trial not being able to complete, I have decided that no new trial should start in the Crown Court unless it is expected to last for three days or less. All cases estimated to last longer than three days listed to start before the end of April 2020 will be adjourned. These cases will be kept under review and the position regarding short trials will be revisited as circumstances develop and in any event next week. As events unfold decisions will be taken in respect of all cases awaiting trial in the Crown Court.
Trials currently underway will generally proceed in the hope that they can be completed.
All those attending court should follow Public Heath England guidance suitably adjusted to reflect the distinct features of a court as a working environment for all concerned, including jurors.
The Lord Burnett of Maldon
Lord Chief Justice
Prisoners could be released early if the coronavirus spreads to UK jails, the head of the Prison Officers' Association has told Sky News.
General Secretary Steve Gillan said that nationally 113 staff and about 75 prisoners were in isolation after showing symptoms although none have tested positive.
Speaking on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Mr Gillan said the Prison Service was taking steps to make ensure riots did not break out in UK prisons as they have in some Italian jails where inmates turned violent after being put in lockdown.
On inmates possibly being freed, Mr Gillan said: "There are no plans now to release prisoners but it cannot be ruled out.
"In the past, governments have done what is called an executive release. This involves low category prisoners who may be coming to the end of their sentences being released to free up prisons."
Asked if other buildings might be commandeered to accommodate prisoners, Mr Gillan said: "This has not been discussed with us yet. It is a movable feast. Everywhere will have to be looked at.
"In the past, when the prisons have been overcrowded we have commandeered prison ships so I won't rule anything out at the present time."
The rule of law is vital to a functioning democracy and even at times like these, it is essential that our independent courts are able to administer justice. Despite an unprecedented public health emergency, the Prime Minister and I are clear that our courts across England and Wales have a critical role to play and should go on sitting.
We will continue to deliver justice to victims of crime, and as best as possible, keep our courts open. However, as I have agreed with the Lord Chief Justice, we need to adjust working practices to ensure our court system continues to function, even with a reduced capacity to hear some cases at this time. We must also take appropriate steps to comply with public health guidance and to minimise the risk of COVID-19 to court staff and users.
With staff absences and courts already impacted, we have to prioritise which types of hearing take precedence. We also need to avoid the disruption that can result from juries being unable to see out the trials they are required to participate in.
I have discussed with the Lord Chief Justice his plans to continue to list those future court cases due to be heard from the summer and beyond as normal. And for those trials already underway, they should all proceed as planned with all participants expected to attend court and discharge their duties. Consistent with wider government advice, we make an exception only for those who are unwell or showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or self-isolating as a household. In all other types of court hearings steps are being taken to enable as many hearings as possible to be conducted with some or all of the participants attending by telephone, video-link or online.
For the minority of Crown Court cases that have been listed for trial shortly, but which have not yet commenced and which are also expected to last for more than three days, I have been in close discussion with the Lord Chief Justice in relation to his decision that these cases should now be postponed.
I recognise the impact that this will have on those witnesses and victims who will have to wait longer to see justice delivered in their cases. We will also make arrangements to extend custody time limits for defendants held on remand in these cases.
However I believe on balance this move is preferable to proceeding as normal when there is a growing likelihood that juries selected to hear such cases may not be well enough to attend, leading the trial to be aborted and the whole process further delayed.
These changes will be temporary and we estimate that three quarters of Crown Court trials will be able to continue despite this restriction. Those cases that have a trial date delayed will be heard at the earliest available opportunity. I am also committed to working with the senior judiciary to address any backlog that develops this year so delays overall do not increase, and I welcome the plans that I have heard from all those involved in our justice system to make sure that we can increase capacity in the system to ensure justice is as swift as possible.
We will keep the situation under review and continue to listen to feedback from lawyers, court staff and users about how COVID-19 is affecting them and their availability. The judiciary and I will issue future statements after considering the most current advice from Public Health England and then explain how this impacts those who are often under a legal obligation to attend court. I am particularly grateful to all the staff, legal professionals, judicial office holders including magistrates, that have worked to keep our courts running so far, and I know their commitment to the administration of justice will help this continue.
Our Crown and Magistrates courts provide a vital public service and until instructed otherwise, we expect all lawyers, magistrates, jurors, witnesses, defendants and court staff to continue to attend court as required, so the interests of justice can be served.