Northern Ireland news

Jury trials called off amid coronavirus outbreak

Jury trials have been called off amid the coronavirus outbreak

ALL jury trials will be called off from tomorrow amid fears about the coronavirus outbreak.

The Lord Chief Justice yesterday announced that there will be no new jury trials until further notice, just hours after a trial in Derry was called off.

However, jurors who are serving in a Crown Court trial or an inquest have been told they should continue to attend.

A spokeswoman said: "The Lord Chief Justice has issued advice to Crown Court judges on what to do if a serving juror indicates they are experiencing possible symptoms of COVID-19.

"There will be no new jury trials commencing from March 18 2020 until further notice."

Barrister Joe Brolly said a trial was called off in Derry yesterday morning.

Mr Brolly, a former Derry GAA star who won the 1993 All-Ireland, was in Derry courthouse as the jury in the trial was due to be selected.

However, he said the judge decided to discharge the jury panel in the trial of three people, who of whom was charged with wounding with intent to carry out grievous bodily harm.

A spokesman for the Courts Service said the trial was listed as having collapsed but he added it is due for mention again next week.

The judge presiding over the trial is Judge Philip Babington, the Recorder of Derry.

Mr Brolly described Derry courthouse as "chaos" yesterday morning.

"I was in Derry court this morning to start a trial, multiple accused, the place was packed," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback.

"There were probably 500 people in the court building, maybe 80/90 people in court four, no hand sanitisers, everyone was proceeding as normal. A jury panel of 100 people, including elderly people because the jurors go up to 66, in a small room. "

He added: "I spoke to a group of intensive care and transplant doctors yesterday. They were saying the same thing - this is an imminent catastrophe. We're a few weeks behind Italy. Italy had 68 deaths yesterday."

Mr Brolly said he refused to be searched going into the court yesterday.

"I said - there's human life at stake. I have elderly relatives. I have an aunt who has just had pneumonia," he said.

Mr Brolly said there had been no clear guidance from the authorities about how best to deal with the outbreak.

"There has been no instruction from government," he said.

"There has been no guidance. This is just every man for himself."

Mr Brolly said countries which successfully dealt with the outbreak had closed all public buildings, including the courts.

"We are on the brink of a catastrophic event here," he said.

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, who works as a solicitor in Belfast, tweeted that he was concerned by what he had witnessed in Laganside courthouse yesterday.

"30 student PSNI officers also brought into court, along with hundreds of others who don't need to be there," he tweeted.

"The failure to implement simple effective preventative measures is truly astounding."

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