Challenges of court trials during COVID
Legal experts are in uncharted territory as courts face significant challenges providing public justice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social distancing measures are already in place in courts, but judges and barristers have discussed logistics for prisoners ahead of a high-profile criminal trial due to start next month.
The matter involves a number of defendants who are remanded in prison ahead of their case being heard.
Public courts usually give defendants the opportunity to confront their accusers face-to-face and verdicts where charges are serious are decided by a jury.
But amid the coronavirus outbreak, there are no jury trials and many prisoners appear by video-link to reduce their movement.
The resources aren’t available for a handful of prisoners to appear at the same time by video-link from jail for hours each day during a lengthy trial, Supreme Court Justice David Boddice said in court on Thursday.
New prisoners and those transferred already face 14 days in isolation as part of measures introduced this month to prevent the coronavirus from entering Queensland’s jails.
The isolation doesn’t apply to prisoners attending court, but questions have been asked about the risk of prisoners contracting COVID-19 if they are in contact with people outside jail for longer periods.
Justice Boddice says defendants will need to consult regularly with their barrister and solicitor during a trial, which could put people at risk of spreading the infection.
There is also the health of corrective services officers, court staff, judges, bailiffs and legal teams to consider.
“We have to do the best in the new norm,” Justice Boddice said.
Experienced criminal lawyer Bill Potts said the courts were doing their absolute best to ensure justice is done, but some legal minds were questioning whether people can get the trial they deserve during the crisis.
“The coronavirus is causing significant problems for jury systems and courts,” he told AAP.
Mr Potts said the courts, defence and prosecution generally prefer serious offences to be dealt with before a jury, rather than in a judge-only trial, unless there are unusual circumstances.
But courts may need to be redesigned if the crisis continues because some social distancing in court is impossible.
Mr Potts said measures could include defendants sitting in sealed-off boxes and jury boxes altered to provide capacity for jurors to sit further apart.