The South Eastern Circuit
Leader's Update
What is in a Recovery Plan?  The Crown Courts first…
Yesterday HMCTS published this plan entitled
“Next steps towards recovery in the Crown Court.”

As ever with any communication from Government it tells part of the story as well as it can, but does not answer all our questions.  Please read it yourself.  The headline is perhaps that  HMCTS expects to have 250 trial courts up and running by November.  While many (all?) of us remain sceptical about such announcements, it would be a real surprise for HMCTS to say this publicly if they did not believe they can deliver. 
What does it mean in practical terms?  No one seems to know how many of the nation’s 488 crown court rooms were regularly used for jury trials pre-Covid, but it is said that 250 courts means about the same level of work as the dark days of 2019 when sitting days were so restricted.   This of course had led to a grossly unacceptable level of backlog long before Covid struck.  So, while I am profoundly relieved by seeing some progress and acknowledge the great efforts made so far to emerge from Covid, these “steps” are only the beginning. 
And what does it mean for the Circuit?  We have around 200 court rooms and around 46 courts rooms that can hold jury trials under 2m rules.  The breakdown is as follows.  No trials: Aylesbury, St Albans, and Lewes/ Hove.   One trial at a time:  Basildon, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Harrow, Ipswich, Kingston, Norwich, Oxford, and Peterborough.  Two trials at a time: Canterbury, Croydon, Guildford, Inner London, Isleworth,  Luton, Wood Green, and Woolwich.  Three trials at a time:  Maidstone, Reading, Snaresbrook, Southwark, Prospero House (Southwark).  The Old Bailey can hold six trials.
CourtServe reveals that this week most of these have trials running, but some courts where trials can be held have listed none.  Why?  August has historically always been quieter, but it seems hard to fathom why this year.  Rumours persist that the problem in a couple of court centres has been a lack of staff through August.  If true, perhaps September will see an improvement, so long as HMCTS can maintain its staffing numbers through the autumn – even better of course if it can deliver on the promised recruitment plans.
If this increase in capacity is coming, it is hard to understand why HMCTS/ courts cannot publish their detailed plans at local level.  Who is getting Perspex, portakabins (sic), and on what dates?  And wouldn’t it be nice to be told what the plan is for multi-handed trials?  
We all need answers to these questions so we can make urgently needed business decisions about property, staff salaries and redundancies.  The uncertainty fostered by HMG’s lack of transparency about detailed plans is corrosive and debilitating.  
Justice Committee Call for Evidence:
The Justice Committee has called for written evidence by 7th September on the following four questions:
  1. The impact of Covid-19 on court sitting days and the backlog of cases, including whether the one-off additional funding and 4,500 additional days provided for 2020/21 is sufficient and staffing and recruitment issues;
  2. Practical experience of delay in Crown and other courts among lawyers, witnesses, victims and defendants and whether there is appropriate access to justice;
  3. The extent to which courts have appropriate capacity post-Covid-19, including the extent to which courtrooms are idle across England and Wales;
  4. Long-term solutions to reduce delay in cases coming to trial, including the move to the digital transformation of the court estate.
September will see the publication of the Q2 statistics about cases in the crown court.  Until then we are left with our experience.  In the “Next Steps” plan HMCTS says:  ‘Since May, when jury trials resumed, more than 690 jury trials have been listed and disposed of. From this week, jury trials will be taking place in 66 Crown Court buildings and two Nightingale Courts (Prospero House and Swansea Civic Centre); 93 courtrooms are available for jury trials and we expect this to increase to 100 usable jury trial rooms by the end of August.’  Laudable first steps, but I suspect we have more than 690 new jury trials being added to the backlog every week or so….  earlier this week Snaresbrook fixed a custody case for June 2022. 
You will all have your answers to the questions above.  I would be particularly grateful if you could send in examples to answer question 2 and your preferred ideas for question 4 to
And the Civil Courts?
It has been four years since the vaunted digital transformation of the justice system began.  The impact in the county courts is hard to see.  Work in the county courts has collapsed in this crisis because the IT systems were frankly close to non-existent and the system seems almost wholly reliant on paper.  
The government has done some things really well in the digital sphere.  I know we can’t really use our passports this year, but the online application process is terrific.  The DCS has its imperfections, but without it, the criminal justice system would have completely collapsed this summer.  I know CVP is being hastily rolled out across the civil court system, but we need functioning email and Wi-Fi everywhere too.   
Speaking of CVP and Remote Hearings:
We are told that with immediate effect the decision has been made nationally to stop putting the CVP links on the front of DCS. Instead they will be uploaded in form 5009 to section X on DCS. The blank form and guidance notes can be accessed using these links:

Access the Guidance Note here
Access the CVP Blank Form here
Next week James Mulholland QC takes over as Chair of the CBA.  I know you will want to join with me and wish him well.  I hope all goes well with “back to school” next week.  During September we will be holding educational events to cover the roll-out of s28 powers across the Circuit, the practicalities of the EOHs pilots at Reading and Snaresbrook, and a session on practical guidance for the Recorder exam.    
We are all looking at the autumn with some trepidation.  The weather has brought summer to a premature end and everyone fears a resurgence of the virus.  We don’t need a poet to tell us that ‘some days must be dark and dreary.’  But the court reopening is designed to be Covid-proof as possible.  So while these are small steps, we are at least heading in the right direction.  I wish you all a very good long weekend.
Mark Fenhalls QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit

The Barristers' Benevolent Association:
The four Inns, together with the Barristers’ Benevolent Association, have launched a Covid-19 fund to give emergency financial assistance where it is urgently needed at the Bar. This fund will help those members of the Bar who are unable to support themselves and their families during these difficult times.

Their aim is to make emergency grants to barristers who are suffering financial hardship as a result of C19 impeding their ability to work as a barrister, as fairly, swiftly and simply as possible.

For details visit their website and complete the short Covid19 application form and email it to
Website: Email: or
Telephone: 07887 841302 and 07375 557326
The BBA exist to support, help and comfort those members of the Bar in England and Wales and their families and dependents who are in need, distress or difficulties. 

Nominations for the 2020 Bar Pro Bono Awards are OPEN!
Do you have a friend or colleague who goes above and beyond for every pro bono client? A mentor who goes the extra mile? A clerk who always manages to find time in everyone’s diaries for pro bono work? 

Give them the recognition they deserve by nominating them for a Bar Pro Bono Award at 

The deadline for nominations is Sunday 27th September 2020 and most of the awards will be presented at an online awards ceremony during Pro Bono Week in November.


Parental Talk with Noel Janis-Norton:
Recorded on 22nd July 2020

A copy of the this recording can be accessed here
SEC and Bar Mess Events:
Calmer Parenting & Teaching:
'Teach your child to read with my fun and proven method'
September online course
A SEC discount has been applied to this course

Full details and to book

Back Pain: Injury, Management & Prevention Facts & Fiction:
Tuesday 1st September
18.00 - 19.30
An expert panel from both Pure Sports Medicine and Goal Master come together to discuss the facts and fiction around back pain.  

Have you experienced persistent back pain and would like to learn how to treat it and avoid it? Do you want to understand the many myths about back pain that can lead to time and money being wasted and gain information on the latest scientific and clinically effective evidence? 

Our experts will discuss all of these elements in this interactive webinar, with plenty of opportunity for questions.

Please register your interest to attend here.

SEC/Recorder Exam Guidance - Virtual Lecture:
Monday 28th September - please note the date change.
17.00 - 18.30
A session focused on exploring how to approach the recorder application process.  This seminar draws on the expertise of sitting Recorders and Circuit Judges to explore prepare to make an application, how to navigate the application form and its pitfalls, and how to approach the final exam.  This session is expected to be very popular; please reserve your place as soon as possible.

Please register your interest to attend here.

Section 28:
An Evening in September
Further details will be announced shortly

Diversifying your Practice:
An Evening in September
Further details will be announced shortly

SEC/CPS Form Filling Virtual Lecture:
This Course will now take place in October 2020.
17.00 - 18.30
An intensive session designed to explore all issues surrounding CPS grading applications.  A panel of speakers will discuss how to tailor your experience to the CPS grading criteria, and to project your skills appropriately.  There will also be an exploration of common mistakes made in the application process, and how to best avoid these.
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