The campaign group, Justice, has tested the extent to which a virtual trial could be a fair alternative to in-person hearings during the COVID-19 crisis.
One interesting observation they had was that in their fictional trial, the defendant "was treated with much more dignity than when they are placed in an enclosed dock" in a courtroom.
They highlight certain technical challenges and emphasise the degree of trust which is placed on jurors when trials are conducted virtually. However, in the age of social media, considerable trust is already placed in jurors.
Opinion is naturally divided on whether virtual jury trials are desirable. Taking hearings out of the courtroom raises legitimate concerns about maintaining open justice. Addressing a gallery of distant and dispersed jurors and marshalling proceedings to ensure that all parties remain engaged and that their interests are continuously and appropriately safeguarded (particularly for unrepresented defendants) demands a flexible and nimble approach from advocates and judges.
However, delays in the criminal justice system are not a new phenomenon. In some respects, the current crisis has elevated a chronic issue into an acute problem. The rate at which the backlog - which stood at 33,000 before lockdown - is now growing, does raise the question whether it is will be better in many categories of cases to proceed virtually where possible rather than to delay justice.
Furthermore, post-lockdown, it may be that some lessons could be learnt from virtual hearings (affording defendants more dignity), and some efficiencies introduced to court proceedings (more virtual preliminary hearings), which might ultimately produce a criminal justice system which is more fit for purpose than is currently the case.
"Jodie Blackstock, legal director at Justice, said: ‘Our primary concerns are for the safe administration of justice, upholding fair trial rights and effective participation. We are continuing to test whether remote jury trials are possible, refining the platform and addressing concerns raised in the evaluation process.’"