In the latest, third lockdown, after some weeks the Exeter criminal courts have found a balance between reducing the risk of COVID infection with continuing the business of criminal justice. Visible and regular cleaning has been a constant, screens between parties had already been a feature of the court room but are now installed in many conference rooms and those conference rooms can now only be accessed on a request basis, which means that cleaning of those rooms can be managed between each use by court security. The Court accommodates lawyers and many defendants by video-link, rather than requiring them always to attend in person at a hearing. The defendant’s lawyer can make that application of the court in advance for their client, if appropriate.
All business, including jury trials are proceeding at the Courts, though we are sure the Judiciary would prefer to be running more jury trials if safety allowed. From time to time the Resident Judge with the Prosecution identifies particular cases that might be resolved by discussion between all the parties and such cases are listed for case management hearing. We have achieved positive outcomes in some of these cases but some have led to no progress of any kind.
Local police have been impacted by this 2021 lockdown more than any other occasion it seems. There has been little resistance from the police to our lawyers providing help to our clients at the police station through the phone. It didn’t always feel that way before.
Communication other than in person is not the future, but we are confident that we have provided our clients an efficient, thorough service remotely and safely to everyone at a time of this pandemic. We hope that the increased and more flexible direct contact with the police investigators that has come with remote working has meant that we have helped police and detainees by improving communication and taking out a lot of the guess work defence lawyers have had to rely on in their advice to their clients in the past. If we can find out how the police think about their investigation then we can advise our clients what an admission, a denial or silence in response to questioning might lead to. Of course, this won’t be appropriate for police or lawyers in all situations.
It will be interesting to see if this spirit of improved communication between investigators and solicitors continues after the pandemic is over. The increased reliance on making prepared statements by suspects to investigators before interviews hopefully has a place in the future, so long as the courts don’t start directing themselves negatively in relation to them when it comes to a trial.
Our office is attended daily by staff and partners. It is manned from time to time, but our staff are encouraged to work from home where possible. We all remain at the end of the phone and email. We use Zoom working with our clients when meeting them at Court is not necessary. The safety of our staff, clients and fellow professionals is essential. If we become ill or have to isolate, we cannot do our job for our clients or each other.
Achieving the best outcomes for people who use Trinity Advocates remains the priority.