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Call for evidence

Constitutional implications of COVID-19: Courts

The House of Lords Constitution Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the constitutional implications of Covid-19. It is exploring the impact of the pandemic, and the Government’s response to it, in relation to the ability of Parliament to function effectively and hold the Government to account, the operation of the courts, and the use and scrutiny of emergency powers.

• Call for evidence: Constitutional implications of COVID-19: Courts (you are on this page)

Call for evidence: Constitutional implications of COVID-19: Parliament and Government

A Separate call for evidence will be published on the use and scrutiny of emergency powers

The Committee is calling for evidence on the workings of the courts and tribunals in response to the pandemic and what the future of the justice system might look like as a result.

The Committee welcomes written submissions on any aspect of this topic, and particularly on the issues and questions set out below. You need not address all the questions in your submission. We welcome contributions from all interested individuals and organisations. The deadline for submissions is Thursday 20 August at 12 noon.

Call for evidence questions:

Virtual proceedings

1. How effective are virtual court and tribunal proceedings? What are the benefits, disadvantages and challenges of virtual proceedings?

2. What is the impact of virtual proceedings on (1) litigants, (2) lawyers, (3) judges, (4) court staff, (5) media, (6) the public? What support is available to them and what is required?

3. What are the implications of virtual proceedings for: (1) access to justice, (2) participation in and fairness of proceedings, (3) transparency and media reporting, (4) adversarial vs inquisitorial styles of proceeding?

4. What difference, if any, might virtual proceedings make to the outcomes of cases?

5. What further research or data are required in order to understand the impact of virtual proceedings?

6. Are the IT systems in the courts fit for purpose to support virtual proceedings?

7. Are certain types of case more/less suitable for virtual proceedings? If so, which ones?

8. Should virtual court proceedings continue after the end of social distancing? If so, for what types of proceedings? If so, how might they be used to extend, rather than just maintain, access to justice?

9. What legal changes are needed to facilitate virtual proceeding in future? To what extent would the proposals included in the Courts and Tribunals (Online Proceedings) Bill 2017-19 meet those requirements?

10. What changes should be made to HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s courts modernisation programme as a result of the operation of virtual proceedings during the pandemic?

Physical proceedings and jury trials

11. What measures are required to maintain the safety of people attending courts in person? Is the courts estate capable of providing socially-distanced justice?

12. What are the implications of virtual proceedings for the programme of courts modernisation and court closures?

13. Is there a case for changing the number of jurors required for trials to ensure that cases progress and social distancing can be maintained? If so, what is the minimum acceptable number of jurors?

14. What are the benefits and risks of replacing juries with judges for some types of case?

Progress of cases

15. What types of case are proceeding, both physically and virtually, during lockdown? What types of case are not making progress and what are the implications of that?

16. What types of case should be prioritised during the pandemic?

17. What affect has the pandemic had on the large backlog of criminal cases and what are the consequences of this? How should the backlog be addressed?

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