Under the new measures courts are now closing or dealing with fewer cases to protect the health of jurors, staff, lawyers and defendants during the coronavirus crisis. However, they are also being urged to reduce or even avoid some charges in less serious offences.
Courts are being told to reduce or even avoid some charges, particularly those committed by very young or old suspects.
Those making charging decisions are advised to give extra consideration to the issue of public interest in cases that could be dealt with in reduced court time or by avoiding court altogether.
Max Hill QC, director of public prosecutions, said: “We know very well the impact crime can have on people’s lives, so we want the public to be confident that – even in these very difficult circumstances – justice will be done.
“Our very function is to prosecute, but we cannot ignore the unprecedented challenge facing the criminal justice system.
“We must focus on making sure the most dangerous offenders are dealt with as a priority as we adapt to challenging circumstances.
“And in less serious cases, it is right that we consider all options available when weighing up the right course of action.”
However, the QC insists justice will still be carried out, especially to those putting public safety at risk.
“This will only relate to a very small amount of cases and offences relating to COVID-19 will remain an immediate priority – anybody jeopardising the safety of the public will face the full force of the law,” he added.
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There is also a block on all new jury trials.
According to the Ministry of Justice, 160 courts and tribunals are still open to the public for face-to-face hearings.
However, judges are holding remote hearings in another 116 courts and 75 are closed.
The judiciary’s family division, which deals with divorce and disputes over children and money, is also considering whether it is feasible to hold its own remote hearings.
Meanwhile, the government has shifted its focus on testing to increasing the amount of tests carried out on staff and elderly patients in care homes.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised to dramatically ramp up coronavirus testing in care homes after it emerged that a mere 500 or so care workers have been tested so far.
The Health Secretary pledged that all care home residents who show symptoms of the disease would receive a test.
For the first time in the UK, the government has pledged that everyone released from hospitals into care homes will be tested, even if they show no signs of coronavirus.