Covid 19 is impacting everyone in these days of social distancing. Criminal defence lawyers (like the police and the courts) are still working, even if it means we cannot man our offices like we would want to. We are still available 24/7 to anyone who needs us as we live by our telephones.
Devon Magistrates Courts are not hearing cases unless they involve defendants refused bail after charge by police or if someone in prison needs their case progressing, such as for sentencing. Trials aren’t happening in the Magistrates for now. Someone just charged and refused bail by police needs the court to decide amongst other things, whether to remand them to prison or give them bail whilst the proceedings sort themselves out. Plymouth, Newton Abbot and Barnstaple Magistrates are closed for now and so all their business is being heard at Exeter Magistrates, which now sits at the Combined Court centre in Southernhay. Trinity Advocates, like other firms, continues to attend these hearings.
Crown courts in the South West have taken different approaches to ongoing business for now. In Exeter, there are no trials for now. Defendants in custody are having their cases heard via a videolink from their prison, but its not always possible to make the progress the Court would like. Advocates are generally participating in the hearings “remotely”, via Skype. Not everyone can see each other in the court room and it means that different lawyers involved in the same matter don’t get to talk before hearings, which is often a good time to make the best progress in a case. Working remotely also means lawyers aren’t always able to talk to their clients sufficiently or at all, because communication with such clients who are in prison depends on whether their videolinks can connect. Everyone seems to be doing their best.
In the police stations we are getting called on to help people arrested and under investigation. Our experience suggests that during this COVID 19 period there are more domestic violence and assault on emergency workers arrests going on, compared to other types of arrests. Assaults on emergency workers are unsurprisingly deemed even more serious than they had been before by the courts, in these precarious days that we rely on those workers to protect us. It is not clear that police are getting the protection equipment they deserve in all situations. In all our dealings with police we emphasize the safety of ourselves, our clients and of the police. We robustly resisted early moves to interview our clients in very small custody rooms, with up to 5 people involved and no protection equipment. Now we have agreed protocols in place with police that ensure we can provide essential help to our clients safely. Either we reach agreement to avoid an interview altogether or if there is an interview, we can provide our help remotely, removing the risk that we will infect anyone or that they can infect us. We can explain the new options in COVID 19 social distancing times, if our clients ask for our help at the police station. Our job is to ensure all of a client’s best interests are looked after, including their health. So it we think a situation in custody puts our client at risk, we will point that out and ask for solutions.
At this time the Courts and police are processing reduced numbers of matters. So with the natural reduction in work we, like other firms, have furlough’d some of our staff for now. We have the capacity we need to cover our obligations and meet the demands of our clients and we constantly have this under review. We hope everyone is taking care of themselves in these difficult times.
Wishing everyone a safe Easter.
Trinity Advocates 01392 927111