Juries are set to return to five courthouses across Northern Ireland from Monday.
Facilities have been fitted with glass and plastic screens for the protection of those in the courtroom.
It follows the return of socially-distanced juries to three crown courts at Belfast’s Laganside Courts in August.
The courts that will also start hosting jury trials are in Antrim, Craigavon, Newry, Coleraine and Dungannon.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said it had taken a “considerable amount of time and effort” to allow the return of juries.
She said the measures would allow trials to proceed safely “amid concerns about Covid in the wider community”.
“All of this work, plus the deployment of technology for remote, hybrid and in-person hearings has ensured that justice has not ground to a halt in the criminal, civil and family courts and also tribunals,” she said.
“The progression of cases is important for victims, complainants, defendants and witnesses and our courts and tribunals are striving in unprecedented times to ensure we can do just that.”
No jury trials took place in Northern Ireland between March and August.
At the start of lockdown, courts were moved to five court hubs, with some hearings being conducted in person, but most being conducted remotely.
The number of court venues for criminal, civil and family cases, and tribunals, has expanded to 15 since August, with 57 courtrooms available for courts and tribunals business.
As part of the return, a number of additional safety measures are being taken.
- Individual Bibles and other religious texts being provided in polythene bags for jurors to take oaths
- Crown court trials being divided in two, where one courtroom is used for hearings and another for jury deliberation
- Hand sanitising stations being provided throughout
- All court users required to wear facemasks in communal public spaces, unless they have a medial reason
“Additional cleaning measures have been put in place to ensure that all surfaces are cleaned in courtrooms after they have been used,” said the justice minister.
“Public safety remains a priority for the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, which has been working closely with the Public Health Agency (PHA), the Office of the Lord Chief Justice and other partners to adapt venues and ensure court proceedings can be conducted safely.”
Mrs Long added her thanks to the staff in the courts service and throughout the justice system who have worked to make the return of in-person juries possible.
— to www.bbc.co.uk