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Covid-19 – do I need to attend court?

March 25, 2020 by in category Covid-19, News with 0 and 0
Home > News > Covid-19 > Covid-19 – do I need to attend court?

With the current Covid-19 pandemic, the justice system has also been reviewing ways that it can continue to operate effectively and efficiently.

The main guidance coming from the HM Courts and Tribunals is that for the time being, the Magistrates’ Courts will continue to operate mostly as normal.

There are proposed changes however, in the Emergency (Coronavirus) Bill 2020 in line with government guidance on self-isolation, which will expand the scope for court hearings to be held by live link.

What is a live link?

A live link allows for someone to give evidence via video link at an alternative location, often at a more convenient court.

General rules on live link

Generally, anyone who is facing a criminal charge must attend the Magistrates’ Court to initially enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Where a not guilty plea is entered, a trial date is set whereby the defendant must attend to face trial. In the interim period, case management hearings may also be listed, for the court to oversee cases and ensure that both the prosecution and defence are conducting the case in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Rules.

Attendance is mandatory for the initial hearing, and for trial and the Court has discretion as to whether a defendant must attend a case management hearing.

Live link applications are generally not available to a person charged with an offence and will only be used in relation to witnesses giving evidence.

In light of the current situation the court system is facing, the Emergency (Coronavirus) Bill 2020 seeks to extend the availability of live links to all involved in the judicial process, including defendants.

Proposed changes

The new changes, if they come into effect, will temporarily allow for anyone to potentially give evidence without having to attend court.

The Criminal Procedure Rules have been expanded to allow for applications to be made for defendants to now give evidence by live link (or to appear in court by live link depending on the nature of the hearing).

This is a hugely dramatic proposition which is unprecedented in the history of the UK judicial system but vital in current times to assist with containing the Covid-19 virus.

If I am charged with an offence, will I have to attend court?

As of 20 March 2020, if you are charged with an offence, you will have to attend court. The proposed changes do not grant an automatic right to not attend court. Formal applications must be made for the court to consider, and it will be in the court’s discretion as to whether measures are put in place for someone to give evidence or ‘attend’ court by live link.

If you are presenting any symptoms of Covid-19, our advice would be to inform the court as soon as possible. Court hearings may be postponed in these circumstances, and are being dealt with on a case by case basis until clear guidance is published.

With many criminal charges such as drink or drug driving, you will be bailed to attend your court hearing. Failure to do so can result in a warrant for your arrest.

Minor offences such as speeding do not involve bail, so if you fail to attend court, the case is likely to be dealt with in your absence however in certain circumstances, this can result in disqualification so it is incredibly important to liaise with the court.

We are continuously reviewing the position, taking into account guidance issued by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, and any implementation following the government’s review of the Emergency (Coronavirus) Bill 2020.

Further guidance has been issued by the courts suggesting that even video links will not be used for non-urgent cases:

Guidance as of 25th March 2020.

Magistrates’ Courts will only be hearing the following cases today (25 March 2020). This list is under continuous review.

CPS work All custody cases, to include:

  • Overnight custody cases from police stations (including arrest warrants and breach of bail cases)
  • Productions from prisons
  • Applications to extend custody time limits Terrorism and extradition (Westminster Mags’ Court)
  • Arrest warrants issued under the Extradition Act
  • In hours and out of hours terrorism applications Central/Local Government
  • Civil applications relating to public health legislation Police
  • Warrants of further detention (police and HMRC)
  • Closure order applications
  • Urgent applications for domestic violence protection orders
  • Urgent applications for rights of entry / search warrants.

Updates are being issued on a daily basis causing some confusion and frustration to lawyers and clients. As a business we remain fully operational and are able to help anyone seeking advice about a new or existing matter during our usual opening hours.

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