24 June 2020
How video hearings broke justice and stripped people of their rights
[…] The problems caused during the pandemic can be exacerbated when cases involve a person suspected to have Covid-19. People have ‘appeared’ in court through the small window of a cell door. Their heads barely visible and voices barely intelligible thanks to the echoing hallway and poor connection as they’re far from the Wi-Fi router.
In one case a defendant with limited English who had coughed on an officer appeared through his cell window, English was his second language and he had no interpreter. The connection was poor and so was the audio. His solicitor in court couldn’t remind him of her advice. He chose a jury trial before saying: “I don’t understand this, that, crown court,” then asking for his solicitor, which the judge refused: “It’s not a matter for your solicitor, you elected to go to crown court.”
“It’s just not justice, it’s a farce,” says Gibbs, who observed that case from the public gallery in May. “What I’m worried about from a justice point of view is that defendants are not getting a fair hearing and that they’re not getting an option to appear in person.” […]