THE most senior judge in Worcester says jury trials may be able to start again by the middle of this month after they had to cease in the city during lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus.

One possible solution being explored is to allow some jurors to sit on the balcony over the jury box of court one at Worcester Crown Court, effectively splitting the panel.

The remaining jurors would sit in the traditional spot - in the jury box immediately below the balcony, thus allowing social distancing among the panel members who try defendants.

Judge James Burbidge QC, when asked by barristers when jury trials could resume, answered: “I would have thought mid July.”

He said he thought four jurors could sit in the upper gallery above the jury box but that a Perspex screen would have to be put in to allow all jurors to be able to see the defendant in the dock which is considered an essential part of the judicial process.

Worcester Crown Court, along with other court centres across the country, stopped hearing jury trials at the end of March when lockdown began. However, the court reopened to the pubic and press on Monday, June 15 but with a raft of measures to manage the pandemic and maintain public safety.

Only one court (court one) is open to the public and press at Worcester Crown Court although the other courts are working ‘in chambers’ (closed to the public), performing administrative work so that progress can be made on other cases delayed by the outbreak.

Hand sanitiser has been available at the court entrance and court managers have limited the capacity within the open courtroom to a maximum of 14 people.

A one-way system is up and running with arrows on the floor and managers have limited the number of available chairs with only one per table in the waiting area.

Defendants and legal counsel have also been reminded by the judge to leave the courtroom as soon as they can after any hearing has finished to reduce the risk of transmission. Some barrister and solicitors have appeared using video conferencing facilities although increasingly advocates are attending in person as restrictions are relaxed.

A team of cleaning staff has also been cleaning the courts between cases to further reduce the risk of infection and have also been cleaning communal areas such as tables in the waiting area.

The toilet facilities are limited to one person at a time and sections of yellow tape have been applied to the floor in the waiting area to create bays and enable social distancing.