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County Court chief judge says jury trials ‘unlikely’ to return by October

“It seems sufficiently clear that the circumstances are unlikely to permit the court to resume jury trials at the commencement of term four.”

The court had a large backlog of cases before coronavirus hit and the suspension of trials meant hundreds of accused people, plus complainants and witnesses, were waiting for cases to begin. The court earlier estimated the backlog to be 750 cases.

The Supreme Court has also suspended jury trials, although it only hears a fraction of the cases the County Court does. The Supreme Court is yet to decide whether jury trials can return this year.

Criminal Bar Association of Victoria chair Daniel Gurvich, QC, said he was still hopeful jury trials could resume in 2020, and that it was too early for the courts to rule out a return.

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“We are not overly confident they will occur this year because the news has been quite grim of late but everyone is making serious endeavours to conduct jury trials so the administration of justice can continue,” he said.

Mr Gurvich said measures such as appointing more judges and holding trials in other public buildings needed consideration to reduce the backlog of trials. The current backlog would take years to address.

“The delays pre-pandemic were already significant for accused people and victims and witnesses. Now they are going to be measured in years not months,” he said.

The County Court is yet to completely draw a line through jury trials resuming in 2020. Judge Kidd has left open the possibility of holding a limited number of jury trials after October 5 under a pilot scheme in which court rooms would need to be reconfigured to allow greater social distancing for jurors, lawyers and other participants.

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