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Major changes at Maidstone Crown Court so hearings can run with social distancing

Rumpole of the Bailey would be bemused and those who have learned from TV dramas how trials in the UK are run - could be a tad confused if they visit Maidstone Crown Court these days.

Because coronavirus restrictions have brought about major changes in how things are run in the county's criminal courts.

Maidstone Crown Court. Stock picture (38138099)
Maidstone Crown Court. Stock picture (38138099)

And although the British judicial system is notoriously slow in inculcating new technology into the trial process, coronavirus has forced lawmakers into a rapid re-think.

After a hiatus in trials across the country, a growing backlog of cases, including murders, rapes and serious assaults is forcing courts to examine ways in which fair trials can be heard.

On Wednesday, July 8, Maidstone completed its first post-Covid murder trial when a teenager was found guilty of killing Medwayman, Tony Eastwood.

A jury in an attempted murder case where a man was stabbed in a random attack outside a pub in Dartford, was also sworn in started.

Although the bewigged judges and barristers haven't altered - although many have grown beards during the lockdown - courts are now very different.

If someone gives evidence from the witness box, it is then cleaned before another witness is allowed to take the stand. Stock picture: Matthew Walker
If someone gives evidence from the witness box, it is then cleaned before another witness is allowed to take the stand. Stock picture: Matthew Walker

Many of the seats in court are now draped with red/yellow tape restricting the numbers who can attend a hearing to barely a handful.

Although there are still 12 jurors hearing cases they are now sat along one side of the court, at least two seats apart and they are chosen while sitting in another courtroom before being called to take their places in single file.

And jurors who want to swear on the Bible or other holy book are now just shown the book, held by an usher several feet away, they are then asked if they can see the book before taking the oath.

Documents used during the trial now have to be quarantined for two days prior to their use and if anyone giving evidence from the witness box results in it being cleaned before anyone else is allowed to take the stand.

The radical changes follow a survey by officials from Public Health England to ensure the chances of Covid-19 are not being spread during the trial.

Courts have changed how they work during the pandemic. Stock picture
Courts have changed how they work during the pandemic. Stock picture

And along with the law books on the benches are cleansing wipes and bottled water rather than open jugs and instead of retiring to a small room to consider its verdict, jurors are led to a closed courtroom.

Entering and exiting the court is restricted to one in-one out and the same for people using the lift at the Barker Road site and some of the court staff wear gloves and masks.

To read more of our in depth coverage of all of the major trials coming out of crown and magistrates' courts across the county, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent


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