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Message from the Leader of the Northern Circuit, Lisa Roberts QC and Darryl Allen QC

14th May 2020

Message from the Leader of  the Northern Circuit regarding Civil Trials on Circuit


Dear Colleague


You will have seen the announcement of the cautious re-introduction of “in person” jury trials for our criminal colleagues.  You are probably wondering what arrangements, if any, are in place for the return of “in person” trials in the civil courts.  We cannot comment on national arrangements but can tell you what is happening on our Circuit.


HHJ Bird and HHJ Wood QC, the DCJs for Greater Manchester and Cheshire/Merseyside, are both actively exploring the possibility of undertaking “hybrid trials” [judge and legal representatives in court with witnesses via video link] and full “in person” trials.  Pursuing those options was on hold pending the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday.  The DCJs are discussing matters with their judges, HMCTS, court staff, court users and other stakeholders.  They expect to be in a position to announce their plans soon.  


As you will appreciate, re-opening these large court centres for attendance by increasing numbers of people is a major exercise which requires detailed discussion and agreement with HMCTS, security staff, court staff, judiciary and court users.  Consideration will have to be given to numerous practical issues, including staggered start times/lunch adjournments/finish times, spacing of hearings on individual floors, waiting areas for parties/witnesses, spacing within court rooms, access to and from the buildings and so on. 


Although we all want to see an increase in the number of hearings going ahead, everything must be done to ensure that all court users are safe.  Practitioners involved in those trials can expect with confidence that the judiciary will manage the trials in a way which protects their health: the precise arrangements will plainly be different depending on the court centre, the courtroom, and the case.


There is also an overriding need for the interests of justice to be met in all trials, be they hybrid or in person, and for all parties who have an interest in the trial to be satisfied that the interests of their respective clients can also be met. 

We watch with interest how matters proceed in the criminal courts in the next few days and weeks as tentative steps are made towards the resumption of jury trials. But if criminal trials can take place - bringing with them the added “footfall” and complications of multiple jurors, defendants in custody, Probation and security – then we are hopeful that, with careful planning and the active co-operation of all court users, civil trials will resume when they can.


We will keep you updated as and when we hear more


Best wishes,


Lisa Roberts QC and Darryl Allen QC


Associated Members


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