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Juries could be picked in hotels due to distancing concerns

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Juries could be selected in hotel ballrooms or other large venues before being brought to courtrooms to hear trials under proposals being examined for reopening the criminal courts.

Jury boxes would be reconfigured to partition jurors from each other with perspex or plexiglass, while they could also be spread out around the courtroom.

The proposals are being considered by the Courts Service as it grapples with how to hold jury trials while also following physical distancing guidelines.

Jury selection, which can involve dozens of people gathering at a time, is seen as a particular problem.

All new jury trials were effectively suspended after Covid-19 restrictions were announced in March, and there is now a large backlog of criminal cases.

At present, it is planned that many Circuit Court venues will resume holding jury trials in September, while there may also be some Central Criminal Court trials before then.

Several of the proposals being examined by the Courts Service were outlined in submission by the Bar of Ireland last week.

The document suggests potential jurors be convened in larger spaces near courts, such as theatres or hotel ballrooms, with only the selected jurors reconvening in the courtroom for the trial.

It proposes seating fewer people in jury boxes, with remaining jurors spread around the court room. The erection of partitions between jurors was also suggested.

The submission also suggests allowing jurors to deliberate in empty courtrooms or large rooms in nearby venues.

The barristers' body has also called for legislation to allow for preliminary trial hearings, which would allow legal issues arising in any given case to be front-loaded. This would help avoid juries spending lengthy periods kicking their heels while legal argument takes place in their absence.

A spokesman for the Courts Service said it had conducted "serious planning" on the reconfiguration of courts and the use of other venues.

"The safety of jurors is paramount. We have the facilities to keep jurors safely distanced during trials and during deliberations," the spokesman said.

"We are reconfiguring our own spaces and looking at the possibility of using other spaces for the safe empanelling of jurors."

Irish Independent