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Media Contact for Supreme Judicial Court Issues New Orders Regarding Court Operations and Access to Courthouses
Jennifer Donahue and Erika Gully-Santiago
BOSTON, MA — Prompted by the continued improving situation in the Commonwealth with respect to COVID-19, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today issued two updated orders regarding access to and the operation of Massachusetts state courts. The new orders go into effect on July 12, 2021.
The first order updates the rules for those seeking entry to a courthouse. It also removes occupancy limits and physical distancing requirements in courthouses, but requires everyone, whether fully vaccinated or not, to continue to wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth.
The second order provides for courts to largely begin conducting business as they did prior to the pandemic. Courthouses will be open and courts will be conducting business in person, although certain proceedings may still be conducted virtually. As for jury trials, there will be no further COVID-19-related limitations or restrictions on where and how they are conducted, other than the mask requirements noted above. While courts continue to work through the backlog of jury trials caused by the pandemic, however, certain cases that typically would be tried to juries of twelve (e.g., Superior and Housing Court civil cases) will continue to be tried to juries of six and subject to limitations on the number of peremptory challenges. Priority will continue to be given to conducting jury trials in cases where a party is in custody. The general tolling of speedy trial deadlines will expire on October 1, 2021.
"We are truly encouraged by the progress in the Commonwealth with respect to COVID-19," said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, "and hope it will continue and allow courts to gradually return to normal. At the same time, we hope to take some of the lessons learned during the pandemic and apply them going forward, particularly when it comes to conducting certain proceedings virtually."
As throughout the pandemic, all plans and expectations regarding court access and operations may be adjusted at any time if the COVID-19 situation in the Commonwealth changes significantly.
Due to juror notice requirements, jurors will not be available for trials in some locations until September 7, 2021. For a list of locations and the dates they will have access to jury pools, visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-jury-information.
Each Trial Court department will continue to post notices to the court system's COVID-19 webpage identifying how (in-person or virtually) it is addressing various categories of matters.