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Massachusetts courts lifting pandemic restrictions, but keeping masks

The brand new Lowell Justice Center towers over the banks of the Hamilton Canal in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. The courthouse is finally open for business this summer, though the canal are not. They are currently drained due to work being done in them. SUN/Robert Mills
The brand new Lowell Justice Center towers over the banks of the Hamilton Canal in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. The courthouse is finally open for business this summer, though the canal are not. They are currently drained due to work being done in them. SUN/Robert Mills
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BOSTON – Massachusetts court operations will return almost entirely to pre-pandemic norms this month when capacity limits lift along with restrictions on jury trials, officials announced Thursday.

The Supreme Judicial Court published two new orders, which take effect July 12, that chart the next phase in public access to courtrooms after more than a year of COVID-19 impacts.

All Massachusetts courts will no longer cap occupancy or require physical distancing, and they will all open for in-person business.

Officials will no longer deploy pandemic-related limits on when and how jury trials are conducted, though some cases that would normally be tried before 12-member juries will go before six-member juries and face limits on the number of peremptory challenges as the courts work through a backlog of cases.

Everyone regardless of vaccination status will still be required to wear a mask inside courtrooms. Some court proceedings will continue to take place remotely even as the judicial system mostly opens up, officials said.

“We are truly encouraged by the progress in the Commonwealth with respect to COVID-19, and hope it will continue and allow courts to gradually return to normal,” SJC Chief Justice Kimberly Budd said in a statement. “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.”

Some trials will not have access to jurors until Sept. 7 due to minimum juror notice requirements, and officials said more detailed information about availability will be posted online.

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