Jury trials will resume under physical distancing restrictions in a limited number of crown courts in England and Wales from 18 May 2020, the lord chief justice has announced.
Lord Burnett of Maldon said the first courts where fresh juries would be sworn in will include the Old Bailey in London and Cardiff crown court.
Special arrangements to maintain the safety of lawyers, court staff and the jury have been agreed with the Ministry of Justice in line with Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines.
Several other part-heard trials at the Old Bailey, suspended due to the pandemic, are already resuming.
The jury was called back on Monday to restart the trial of six teenagers charged with killing a 17-year-old outside a KFC restaurant last summer.
Jurors were told they would sit for shorter hours, between 11am and 3pm, to avoid the rush hour and have another courtroom to use for adjournments and retirement.
Announcing the resumption, the lord chief justice said: “It is important that the administration of justice continues to function whenever it is possible in an environment which is consistent with the safety of all those involved.”
Small numbers of trials are expected to take place initially. Other courts around the country are being assessed for use. Trials will involve juries being spread out to allow physical distancing and the use of a second courtroom linked by closed-circuit television “to enable reporters and others to watch the proceedings”.
Despite speculation, the number of jurors will not be reduced from the traditional number of 12.
Welcoming the move, the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, said: “These [pilot trials] will … help us understand how it might be possible to conduct trials more widely as the situation with coronavirus develops.
“Any person who plays a part in a criminal trial – including victims, witnesses, jurors, and legal professionals – is making a huge contribution to society that is rightly recognised as an essential reason to leave their home. They have our gratitude and they deserve our protection – and measures are being put in place to support everyone who comes to court, in whatever capacity, to do so without putting themselves at unnecessary risk.”