Concerns calmed over coronavirus being used as excuse for non-attendance by defendants

THE national association of barristers has said it has not yet come across the coronavirus pandemic being used as an excuse by defendants to not show at court.

Friday, 3rd April 2020, 10:48 am
Updated Friday, 3rd April 2020, 2:59 pm

The national crisis has led to the government advising people - including those with symptoms of Covid-19 or who are in the high risk category - of the circumstances where they do not have to attend court.

The advice states: ‘Unless you have heard from us or you are self-isolating based on government and NHS advice you should continue to attend the court or tribunal.’

Despite the pandemic opening up a potential loophole for non-attendance from defendants, the Bar Council insists ‘all court users are working constructively’.

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Portsmouth Crown Court Picture: César Moreno Huerta

Chair of the Bar, Amanda Pinto QC, said: ‘This is not something we have come across as an issue (defendants using coronavirus as an excuse not to attend court).

‘In the current public health crisis, the safety of all court users is paramount and where it is possible and appropriate to do so, hearings should be conducted remotely.

‘The Bar and many others are working hard to ensure the justices system works as smoothly as possible in these challenging times.

‘Our experience is that, despite the steep learning curve to adapt to necessary changes, all court users are working constructively and in accordance with government health guidance, to allow the wheels of justice to keep turning.’

Hampshire police have also said they are not aware of ‘perpetrators using Covid-19 symptoms as an excuse to not be arrested’ but added ‘that’s not to say it hasn’t’.

Meanwhile the CPS would not be drawn on the issue, only saying it was ‘carefully following government advice and guidance while keeping our own operations under constant review’.

In a statement, the CPS said: ‘We will continue to work with partners in the criminal justice system to ensure that urgent work can continue safely, using technology to minimise in-person contact wherever possible.

‘Uppermost in our thinking is ensuring - in all our work - a safe environment for CPS staff, those we instruct to prosecute on our behalf and the public.’

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