All jury trials at crown courts will be cancelled until it’s safe to run them, England’s most senior judge said.

Lord Chief Justice Burnett’s announcement followed stinging criticism from lawyers about the potential dangers of ploughing ahead with criminals trials despite the deepening coronavirus crisis.

In a statement released on the Judiciary website on Monday morning Lord Burnett said: “My unequivocal position is that no jury trials or other physical hearings can take place unless it is safe for them to do so. A particular concern is to ensure social distancing in court and in the court building.”

All jurors due to come to court this morning for new trials would be contacted by staff and told not to attend until they were told to. “They will only be asked to come in for trials where specific arrangements to ensure safety have been put in place. In some cases, this may mean that jurors may be called in to start a new trial later on Monday.”

Judges might need to think imaginatively in order to make sure conditions were safe.

In civil and family courts all hearings should be held via telephone or video conferencing. They should only take place in person if no alternative was available, the Lord Chief Justice said.

The new guidance followed extensive criticism over the weekend of the decision to keep jury trials running.

On Sunday, the Western Circuit – the organisation representing barristers in the west of England – tweeted: “We are desperately worried about increasing the burden on the NHS because people are unable to follow social distancing rules at court. We continue to urge the government: STOP HEARINGS IN PERSON UNLESS THEY ARE OVERWHELMINGLY URGENT & IMPOSSIBLE TO DO REMOTELY.”