Judge-only trials are the order of the day in courts during the lockdown. And one judge reckons it might be one of the last restrictions to be lifted.
Judge-only trials are the order of the day in courts during the lockdown. And one judge reckons it might be one of the last restrictions to be lifted.

Juries out as virus has up-ends courts

TRIAL by jury could be one of the last COVID-19 suspensions to be lifted - even after people are allowed to go to the football or a concert, a Brisbane judge says.

District Court judge Brian Devereaux made the comment before ordering a rare no-jury trial for a man charged with indecent treatment of his own daughter, then 12.

All new jury trials in Queensland's Supreme and District courts were suspended indefinitely on March 16, as a precautionary measure due to coronavirus.

"Trial by jury is a precious artefact, not only of our criminal justice system but of our level of democracy," Judge Devereaux said yesterday.

"But at the moment the Queensland criminal justice system, like all systems of justice and public and private administration, is adapting to an extraordinary state of affairs, namely the COVID-19 pandemic.

"One measure taken has been the suspension of jury trials.

"One cannot predict when jury trials will resume, but it is likely that it will be one of the last steps in the return to pre-pandemic practices, given that the process requires 12 adult persons in close company for the duration of the trial."

Judge Devereaux said jury trials could be one of the last things to come back "after going to the football or a concert", and a prosecutor said it was uncertain when the jury system would be up and running again.

Judge Devereaux was considering an application from a man who was prepared to forfeit his right to a jury trial and wanted a trial before only a judge.

The man, facing two counts of indecent dealing with a child under 16, would have been in custody for seven-and-a-half months before he would be on trial before a jury.

His lawyer said the man could end up being in custody for longer than his sentence might be, if he was found guilty of the indecent dealing offences.

The man was also charged with possession of child exploitation material while on bail, and was returned to custody in October.

Evidence from the child complainant and a child witness in the indecent dealing case will be recorded next week.

"But other witnesses will be kept waiting if the trial doesn't proceed " Judge Devereaux said.

 

District Court judge Brian Devereaux
District Court judge Brian Devereaux

"In my view the trial, the process, should begin, to the benefit not just of the accused, but to reach closure for other interested parties."

Justice Devereaux ordered a no-jury trial.

A judge can make a no jury order if it is in the interests of justice to do so.

Since the suspension of jury trials there have been several applications for trials without a jury.

On April 1, Justice Martin Burns ordered Neil Andrew Pentland, 71, be tried by a judge, without a jury, in July for the 1977 murder of Gold Coast businessman Philip Carlyle.

In a judge-only trial last month, Justice Burns found Elisabeth Mary Coman not guilty of the manslaughter of her partner, who was struck by a car she was driving.

He also found her not guilty of dangerous operation of vehicle causing death while adversely affected by an intoxicating substance.

Ms Coman's lawyers had applied for a judge-only trial, expressing concerns that one or more jurors could succumb to coronavirus.

Originally published as Juries out: How virus has up-ended courts


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