SCREENS have been added to crown court rooms to allow jury trials to resume this week for the first time in months.

Hove Crown Court has new coronavirus measures to allow the legal system to tackle a backlog of stalled cases in Sussex.

Two trials started this week in court one and court two, where jurors are no longer expected to sit in the jury box that used to fit 12 people together at close quarters.

Instead extra space has been made inside the court, with screens to divide them from their fellow members.

The Argus:

Case files are no longer being shared one between two, instead each member gets a laminated set of documents for their own use.

Behind the scenes, extra space has been made by dividing the jury groups in half for their breaks in smaller rooms, before using a larger room to reach their verdict as a group of 12.

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This week, at the trial of a teenager accused of murder, they were also required to read the affirmation from a screen, rather than be given a card and Bible or holy book by an usher.

Perspex screens divide the prosecution and defence barristers and the number of people allowed in the public galleries is strictly limited.

The Argus:

One judge said: “It’s this or no jury trials.”

All trials were postponed at the start of the coronavirus lockdown in March. It included three trials where defendants were accused of murder or killing a victim.

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Since then, the Recorder of Brighton and Hove Judge Christine Laing QC has told barristers and defendants that their trial dates were uncertain, because social distancing measures were not possible at most of the crown courts in Sussex.

But this week trials are back on. It has taken some getting used to, with prosecution barrister Sarah Jones QC being told by jurors they couldn’t hear her during her opening over the Perspex screens festooned in the courtroom.

The Argus:

Joking, she said: “I’ve been told that some of you were not able to hear parts of my opening. That has rocked my sense of self. I have never been asked to speak up before. It will no doubt be a source of comedy among my colleagues.”

In the trial, Judge Jeremy Gold QC told jurors: “Welcome to court two in its altered condition. It is all Covid-19 compliant. Your safety is of paramount importance to us. Extensive steps have been taken to ensure your safety.”

Keep informed of court reports on our Facebook group here: Sussex crime and court watch