Coronavirus pandemic dominates proceedings at Ballymena Magistrates Court

Ballymena Court.

THE main part of the Magistrates Court was held in the larger of the two court rooms at Ballymena Courthouse on Thursday to give people more separation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Video link cases however were held as normal in Court Two which is where the equipment is set up for prisoners who are on remand to appear from prisons like Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank.

Throughout the day there were countless mentions of the pandemic.

One solicitor appeared to be wearing latex gloves.

Court security staff were also wearing latex gloves.

Several defendants waited outside in the sunshine instead of close by other defendants in the court hall way.

Inside the main courtroom many people opted to sit several metres away from the nearest people in the public gallery.

A number of defendants and legal representatives were absent from the court.

District Judge Nigel Broderick said one solicitor sent an email saying he was not present as he “does not consider it a safe environment” on the basis of government advice on coronavirus.

The judge said his normal practice was to start the main list with ‘first appearances’ but he said he was content to allow lawyers to call their cases earlier to allow them to get away.

In one case it was heard a prosecutor in the Public Prosecution Service had “self isolated”.

A defendant, who is currently on remand in prison, said there had been several delays in his case which he said meant he was in a jail which could on a “lockdown” if there is a coronavirus case.

A prosecutor said efforts were being made to ensure PPS staff could work through electronic devices from home if they have to ‘self-isolate’.

Judge Broderick said: “It is a difficult situation at the moment. We are doing our best to try and keep the court business flowing”.

In another case a lawyer said a defendant had a “temperature” and was advised not to attend.

Meanwhile, a woman had previously been “fortunately” excused from attending court on Thursday in connection with her ongoing case Judge Broderick said.

Another defendant was pregnant and the advice from her doctor was not to attend court, a lawyer said.

A lawyer for another defendant said the man regularly visits a very close friend in a Hospice and he had been advised not to be in public.

In another case Judge Broderick adjourned a case for six weeks for a pre-sentence report to be prepared by Probation.

He said: “Normally I would say two weeks but in the current circumstances I’m going to say longer”.

The judge told another defendant Probation would be writing to him but it “may take a while because of the current coronavirus situation”.

Another defendant was not present because he was “feeling a bit under the weather,” a lawyer said.

During the court the judge called a man down from the public gallery telling him he “should be safe”.

The judge told the man: “Try and make contact with the Probation Service. I appreciate they may be closed for the next day or two”.

The judge hoped Probation would be available to take phone calls from defendants.

Another solicitor said his client was not present as the defendant “believed the court had been cancelled” and he had been concerned about the Covid-19 situation.

The lawyer said he believed the defendant would “fall into the vulnerable category” and said there was a “level of fear”.

Another defendant had been told to “self-isolate” as he had a temperature, the court was told.

Another defendant is going to apply for bail because his partner is an NHS worker and he wants to look after their children and allow her to be at work on the coronavirus “front line”.

Another lawyer said the situation was “deteriorating” and said in some courts cases were being adjourned for three months and in others it was longer.

The court was told a man was due to go into Carrick One addiction unit in Antrim but it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Sentencing in his case was deferred to December.

In another case Judge Broderick said he was not imposing a driving ban on a woman who had children because of the “current situation” as there could be difficulties with public transport.

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