(Bloomberg) — The court that oversees Wall Street is suspending new jury trials at least through next week, joining a global slowdown of court systems based on public hearings in the face of an outbreak that dictates the opposite.
The federal court in Manhattan, one of the busiest dockets in the U.S. and the nation’s main forum for insider-trading and other white-collar criminal cases, announced the suspension Thursday in response to the continuing spread of the coronavirus. The New York state court system likewise said Thursday it was “reassessing” procedures that “bring together large numbers of people in courtrooms.”
Both announcements followed New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s declaration of a state of emergency in the city, calling for “maximum telecommuting” by workers. Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier banned gatherings of more than 500 people throughout the state.
Such precautions are certain to put pressure on the U.S. legal system. About 150,000 criminal and civil trials occur each year across state and federal courts, according to the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts. Trials that use jurors, who are selected from a larger pool of area residents summoned to courthouses, will be particularly affected.
Federal courts in Massachusetts and Connecticut ordered the suspension of all jury trials scheduled to begin over the next several weeks. In his order Wednesday delaying jury trials in Connecticut until April 10, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill noted “trial jurors often have to work in close quarters to hear the evidence and deliberate following presentation of the evidence.” That goes against the recommended precautions to avoid exposure to the virus, the judge said.
The order issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor in Massachusetts suspended jury trials until April 27. Both states said the courts would consider exceptions for criminal defendants asserting their constitutional right to a speedy trial.
The Massachusetts and Connecticut orders follow a similar one last week by the federal courts in Washington state. Other U.S. courts have also delayed proceedings or instituted measures like temperature checks.
Such measures are not limited to the U.S.:
- Ireland has said no new trials will begin in its central criminal courts for the next two weeks, and other non-urgent legal matters will also be adjourned.
- Switzerland’s highest court recommended that all of its public hearings be postponed until further notice as the alpine nation’s judiciary joins judges around the globe weighing drastic measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
- Italy has suspended all court proceedings nationwide until March 22 under a government decree drawn up by Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede. Italy has suffered the most deaths from coronavirus of any country outside China and has shut down almost all stores and restaurants to try to limit its spread.
- Vietnam has totally shut its courts through March because of the outbreak. The country’s Supreme People’s Court said in a directive posted on its website that no visitors to the courts will be allowed and no documents will be received.
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