Criminal jury trials set to resume in Victoria
Many Victorian courts are preparing to welcome back jurors into courtrooms to prepare to work through the large backlog of criminal trials, months after their plans to do so were dashed by the state’s second coronavirus wave.
The Supreme Court and County Courts previously planned to resume jury trials in July, but Victoria’s deteriorating public health since forced the process into a standstill. Due to positive signs of improvement, the courts are preparing to get back on track.
The courts have undertaken extensive work to prepare for the safe resumption of juror trials, including consulting with health professionals, the legal profession and any party involved with criminal trials. The planning has also been informed by jury resumptions in other states and other countries, but “based on the situation in Victoria”.
Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Chief Judge Peter Kidd said they are looking forward to the safe resumption of a number of criminal jury trials: “Jury trials will look different, but they will continue to fulfil their essential role in our criminal justice system.”
The trials will resume with a number of measures, including avoiding the need for large gatherings, physical distancing arrangements, the wearing of masks, cleaning the high-touch surfaces and other hygiene measures and procedural changes. The government has introduced its own modifications to jury procedures that support the measures.
Jury summonses will start in the coming days and will be accompanied by advice from officials about the measures that are in place and the procedures for those who cannot participate. The courts will still continue to use the technology for some other hearings to keep the number of people physically entering the court low.
“Central to the work that has been undertaken has been ensuring that we can provide a safe and comfortable environment for jurors and all court users, consistent with these measures being adopted across the community,” CJ Ferguson and CJ Kidd said.
The courts will closely monitor the resumption of jury trials with a view of safety and of wellbeing for all court users. Work is also progressing for the resumption of civil trials, aided by a jury, and criminal and civil trials in regional areas.
“We wish to thank all those who assisted in developing these plans and acknowledge in advance those who will attend for jury service. Jurors make an incredibly significant contribution through their participation in our justice system, representing the community and fulfilling an important civic duty,” CJ Ferguson and CJ Kidd said.