After several months of being on furlough, our crime solicitor Michaela Rose is back. There are a few changes in how it all works since she last was in the courts and police station but the new routine is not so different. These are the changes she will have seen:
Courts – The Magistrates for Exeter are now at Southernhay and not in Heavitree. The purpose built Magistrates court room is not ready yet so they sit in two of the Crown Court rooms. Anyone charged and refused bail by the police is not being brought to court but instead engages with the first hearing from a video room in the police station. This can make communication and getting information harder for everyone. It still means that having one of our lawyers to run around and sort it all before the hearing is even more important. Besides that the Exeter Magistrates are as near to normal as anyone could hope.
Crown Court – A limited number of jury trials are now being heard in Exeter, with jury members well spaced out and protected by screens from others in the court. The lawyers are not allowed to jump up and down during proceedings, requiring the jury to go in and out a number of times. More movement in and out takes care and time on every such occasion. Instead the pressure is on the lawyers to sort all issues out before the jury come in for the first time each day. Still the courts cannot run at full capacity and the backlog of trials will grow. This is a country-wide issue. Some courts, for example in Liverpool, are running one set of trials until mid afternoon and then running a second set of trials in the afternoon until mid evening. No one asked the lawyers about changing the sitting times or paying rates that reflect that they are now under pressure to work out of hours. This cannot be the way forward. Working such hours is not consistent with having a family and other personal commitments. More courts with more resources to get the trials done during the usual working day is what is needed.
Police investigations – Police still respect the COVID 19 protocol that means a lawyer can engage with police and the arrested and detained client, over the phone for the purposes of interview and helping during investigations . Remote engagement makes the process quicker and means that in sensible situations, prepared statements are accepted rather than needing interviews. Interviews are still conducted in windowless, small rooms with up to 4 or 5 people sat close to one another. You have to ask for everyone to wear PPE if that is important to you – it is not assumed at all police stations. Reducing the risk of cross infection remains important, just ask Glasgow, Manchester and lots of places that have gone back to lockdown of the continuing problem. However, if the circumstances demand it then a lawyer will attend the client in the police station and more lawyers are going to police stations now than they were a month ago. We take each situation as it comes and will talk about the right approach with our clients at the time.