A SENIOR judge has warned there could be an “enormous backlog” of work as a number of crown courts across the country, including Salisbury, are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Courts have been split into three categories, open courts, which remain open to the public for essential face-to-face hearings; staffed courts where staff and judges will work which will not be open to the public; and suspended courts which will be temporarily closed.

Eighty courts, including crown and magistrates courts, have been suspended, including Salisbury Law Courts.

Judge Keith Cutler CBE, the Recorder of Winchester and resident judge of Salisbury and Winchester, said: “What has happened is across the whole country Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has had to do a lot of rationalising because so many members of staff are away self isolating or whatever it may be. That is the driver for this, and so they have looked at a number of courts around the country and this is affecting our courts too.

“Some of the courts Salisbury, Newport, the Isle of Wight, and a few others are suspended now. That will mean they will not sit or have any staff there until there is a change in this current crisis.”

“What will happen with Salisbury is the criminal crown court work will now be heard in Winchester,” explains Judge Cutler.

“All crown court work up and down the country is really impacted by the fact we do not have any jury trials at the moment, we can’t have any for obvious reasons. There are some other hearings that can’t go ahead because we have more people in court than we are allowed to. We are working on the basis that we would hope to be back running a court in Salisbury and in Winchester in July, and that is our hope .

“What will happen from then on is we will have an enormous backlog of work and we’ll have lots of jury trials. We are looking at an awful impact really. What I’m trying to do with my other judges, operating around Salisbury and Winchester, is really to look at cases, principally where defendants are in custody and if they have pleaded guilty or just up to sentence, and if we can carrying on and work out a way of sentencing them over video link.”

Judge Cutler says he has already been practising using Skype technology at Winchester Crown Court.

Speaking of the impact on the crown court, he said: “It impacts a lot. You will have a real delay in jury trials coming through. Later on hopefully we will be working flat out in the autumn through into next year.”

Cases will also continue to be heard at Swindon Crown Court.