Liam Walker defends teacher acquitted in Crown Court trial with first ever ‘virtual’ appearance by judge

17.11.14 | |

Liam Walker represented a teacher who, in a recent trial at Croydon Crown Court, was acquitted of all charges alleging sexual assault against a former pupil.  The case is notable for being the first example, so far as is known, of a jury in a criminal case delivering its verdict to a judge appearing via video link, rather than one physically present in court.  Liam was instructed by Robert Dynowski, partner and head of the criminal department at Steel and Shamash solicitors.

 

A report on the case features in today’s Law Society Gazette.

 

Liam and Robert’s client pleaded not guilty to all four counts.  Prior to any verdicts being taken the judge gave advance notice of his intention of possibly using technology to take a verdict remotely. 

 

In due course the jury returned a not guilty verdict on one of the counts. The judge was present in court to take that verdict, and the jury then retired to its room to continue deliberating on the remaining counts.  The judge was then called away from court on official business, but intended to allow the jury to continue its deliberations in his absence and, if verdicts were reached on the remaining counts, for those to be delivered over a video link.  It was agreed that the court would rise and reconvene with the judge physically present if the jury had any questions to be addressed, or for sentencing in the case of guilty verdicts being delivered.

 

The court's intention to allow the jury to continue to deliberate was discussed with instructing solicitors and the client. The client was advised that we were satisfied no legal or procedural issues arose from the judge’s suggestion, but that the client’s view was important. The client consented, and the court was informed that the client wished to proceed on the basis suggested by the judge.

 

Whilst the judge was at his official commitment, the jury reached verdicts on the remaining counts.  The judge was contacted via Skype over the court’s secure network, and that connection was projected on to large screens.  The jury returned to court and delivered not guilty verdicts on all remaining counts.

 

Whilst it is not unusual for short Crown Court hearings to be held by videolink, it is believed to be a legal first for such an important aspect of a trial as the delivery of verdicts to be conducted in this way.  Costs were certainly saved by this use of technology, and whilst this trial illustrates that the physical presence of a judge in court may not always be required, our view is that the presence of an advocate during jury deliberations is essential. 

 

Liam comments, “Advocates being available remotely is practical for certain hearings. However I don’t think it is sensible in the context of jury deliberations, as it is such a crucial time for the defendant. You are dealing with life-changing situations, where people's reputations and livelihoods are at stake. Defendants are likely to be incredibly anxious and, if anything happens and the advocate is not contactable - that's an aspect of the job which technology does not satisfy. You need to be able to reassure your client and explain legal concepts at what can be the most stressful time of a trial.

 

Liam Walker specialises in representing individuals who are subject to allegations which jeopardise their professional reputation.  For more information on Liam Walker, or the criminal team at Doughty Street Chambers, please contact Maurice MacSweeney.

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