Bar rejects non-jury trials or smaller juries
Suggestions that ordinary criminal trials should take place without juries or with a smaller number of jurors during the COVID-19 emergency have been rejected by The Bar of Ireland.
In a submission to the Courts Service, the barristers’ body said the “draconian measure” of reducing the number of jurors should only be considered if it “proves unduly difficult to secure juries of 12”.
On jury trials, it added: “We are of the view that it is a safeguard in our democracy which should only be interfered with when entirely necessary and after all other proportionate measures have been considered and/or attempted and proven to be ineffective.”
A spokesperson for the Bar previously told Irish Legal News that it was not proposing the expansion of non-jury courts in the State, despite newspaper reports that the measure was under consideration by the Bar Council.
The body’s submission on criminal trials includes proposed social distancing measures including the use of theatres or hotel ballrooms to convene potential jurors “so that they can be brought to the courts in smaller groups at staggered intervals”.
If certain courtrooms cannot be re-configured for social distancing, other venues could be used, it said. “For example, the dining hall of the King’s Inns could be utilised as a courtroom with adequate social distancing easily achieved”, the Bar suggested.
The submission also calls for legislation on preliminary trial hearings to be introduced “as soon as possible in advance of the re-commencement of jury trials and as a stand-alone piece of legislation, if necessary”.
This would “facilitate a more streamlined trial with legal issues front-loaded”, meaning jurors “can then focus on the facts of the case with less interruption”, the submission states.