This research draws on over 10 years of research by the authors on the design of physical and virtual law courts. Their evaluation concludes that while social distancing is in place HMCTS should seriously consider the benefits of this format for restarting criminal jury trials, in order to deal with the significant backlog facing the criminal justice system and the delays in the administration of justice that this has created. Contrary to expectations the virtual trials conducted had the effect of creating a more level play field than is possible in traditional courts with many participants arguing that they felt more engaged when they could see everyone up close.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on the administration of justice with a backlog of 40,000 cases having accumulated in the criminal justice system. HMCTS have started experimenting with social distanced jury trials but these take up more of the court than traditional trials and are unlikely to clear the backlog of cases that has accumulated. JUSTICE have responded to these problems by conducting a series of four virtual jury trial experiments, the last of which involved the bringing together of a jury in a physical hub supported by a team of technicians from technology company AVMI. Professor Linda Mulcahy from the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies has been evaluating these trials with Dr Emma Rowden. The second report of their evaluation was published on the JUSTICE website today.