Leeds Crown Court open only for "essential" cases as criminal justice systems "enters uncharted territory"
Sentencing of defendants were put on hold today at Leeds Crown Court today as judges dealt with only the most "essential" cases.
All courtrooms in the building on Oxford Row had closed by mid-morning, a day after it was announced all jury trials were to be stopped in a bid to halt the Coronavirus outbreak.
Public galleries were cleared today for the handful of cases which were dealt with by the small number of barristers, court staff and probation officers who were in attendance..
One barrister was heard to say to his client: "No courts are sitting to today. In all probability for a long time."
It was a similar picture across at the city's Magistrates Court where defendants turning up to have their cases heard were being sent home.It is understood orders have now been given to prisons not to transport defendants in custody to the court and their cases are to be dealt with via a video link
Barrister Richard Wright QC, Leader on the North Eastern Circuit, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "My understanding of where we are as of today, is there will be provision for essential hearings such as bail applications, extensions to custody time limits and other orders that have to be made, for example, extensions to mental health orders.
"There will also have to be new defendants entering the system, such as newly charged people who are remanded in custody.
"There will probably be, in the short term, more work in the Magistrates Court that is absolutely necessary than in the Crown Court."
The city's most senior judge, Recorder of Leeds, Judge Guy Kearl QC, said last Wednesday (March 18) that lawyers and court staff were determined to ensure the city's criminal justice system keeps operating despite the crisis.The judge said efforts were being made to continue opening as normal despite the health crisis but accepted it was a fast-moving situation.
Mr Wright said: "We are all obviously entering completely uncharted territory, but I think the important thing is that first of all we continue to deliver the criminal justice system however we can.
"We have to acknowledge that that is going to have to change in the short term in terms of how it is delivered.
"We cannot ignore Public Health England advice and guidance.
"There is a balance to be struck and it's finding that balance and everybody is working hard together."