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The Coronavirus Bill includes provisions to expand the availability of video and audio link in criminal court proceedings. The Government says the aim of these measures is to ensure that courts “can continue to function and remain open to the public, without the need for participants to attend in person”.

The new legislative powers sit alongside a series of practical measures announced by the Lord Chief Justice. These measures affect criminal, civil and family proceedings. Similar non-statutory measures have also been introduced in the Scottish courts.

Concerns have been raised as to whether the Bill contains sufficient safeguards to protect vulnerable defendants and the principle of open justice. It has also been suggested that the initial non-statutory measures (particularly those postponing some but not all new criminal jury trials) did not go far enough to ensure social distancing measures in the justice system.

The provisions are clauses 51-55 and Schedules 22-26.

This briefing paper outlines the existing rules on the use of video links in court and tribunal proceedings, explains what changes the Coronavirus Bill would make to those arrangements, and places these legislative changes in the context of other measures being taken by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. It also highlights the main concerns raised by legal commentators and interest groups as to the implications of those measures for access to justice and safety of vulnerable participants.

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