Why are the courts and police stations persisting with in-person attendance?
Nelson Guest and Partners - position regarding the current crisis
Nelson Guest have been alarmed at the Court, and for the vast majority at the police station, approach to the current crisis. It would appear that ‘keep the show on the road’ approach is prevailing whilst in direct conflict to the interests and welfare of everyone involved in the justice system, from legal practitioners to defendants.
Having waited in hope for the Magistrates’ Courts to be assisted by the MOJ in facilitating hearings by video or phone there seems to be little to no progress in South London in this respect. This is all the more strange, given that the technology exists to keep as many people as possible safe. BTmeetMe and Skype for business are specifically referred to in the guidance provided, yet the Magistrates’ Court (where 92 % of cases are heard) continues to work on an attendance basis in the cases heard, despite the grave danger this engenders and the plethora of advice to the contrary from medical professionals.
We are aware of at least one case where a legal rep came close to dying after meeting an interpreter at a police station. It cannot be right that people and their families are asked to take a risk right now, especially when it is unnecessary; it just requires some urgency from the MOJ to address the issue.
The Nightingale Hospital at Excel has been put up in weeks, so surely a selection of Courts and police stations could use technology (even a mobile phone with a loudspeaker) to help everyone to the other side of this crisis. It cannot be right or proper (with or without social distancing) that in-person attendances continue. There are measures available which could avoid these unnecessary risks and it is unreasonable not to implement them at pace.
We are more than aware that justice is not ideally served by video-link hearings. We would not normally suggest that Justice should be carried out in the absence of face to face human contact, empathy and compassion, and the undeniable benefits of presence, but these are desperate times indeed. We urge the MOJ to act and do what needs to be done to help everyone take care of each other. The LCSA has already urged the MOJ to act. We hope that this situation is quickly resolved with the compassion and expedience required.