THE first jury trial since lockdown was announced in March is like no other ever seen at a city court.

In strange and historic scenes at Worcester Crown Court jurors in waiting entered court one wearing masks and swore their oaths on Bibles contained in clear plastic sleeves to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. There were only two jurors in the jury box itself in the city’s court one as the rape trial began yesterday.

“Please do not use this seat” signs were placed on 10 out of the 12 seats in the jury box. Other jurors were spread throughout the courtroom while four jurors were seated on a balcony above the jury box. Usually all 12 jurors would sit together in the jury box.

Trials are only happening at the court at all after Judge James Burbidge QC, the Recorder of Worcester, had the dock remodelled.

The panels in the roof of the dock were opaque and so jurors in the upper gallery, which is normally not in use, would not have been able to see the defendant. One of the panels was therefore removed and replaced with a transparent panel so the court could be used for trials once more. This would allow what the judge described as ‘strategic social distancing’. Ushers in traditional black robes and masks escorted jurors in waiting to their seats. Some of the jury panel removed masks as proceedings got underway but many left them on throughout. Some were wearing masks when sworn. Jurors leaned on the balustrade to get a better look at the courtroom below and Judge Burbidge referred to them as ‘those on the perch up there’. These jurors in the upper gallery are now level with the public gallery but a screen has been put in place between this extended jury box and the gallery. There is a one way system in the court with zones created in the waiting area using yellow tape. Hand sanitiser is available at the entrance for people entering and leaving the court building itself.