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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

COVID-19 emergency laws to trigger virtual courts

COVID-19 emergency laws to trigger virtual courts


Emergency legislation which would facilitate the acceleration of virtual courts in some cases could be brought forward as the coronavirus situation worsens.

The government is still working on its COVID-19 Emergency Bill which will set out measures to expand live audio and video links in some court proceedings, to avoid further delays in the justice process.

Proceedings that could benefit from the measures include certain civil proceedings before magistrates as well as in various criminal proceedings, though no further details are available. 

The upcoming bill forms part of the government’s enhanced approach to pandemic preparation but has not yet been published.

However, government says the measures under consideration will ensure individuals, who may be forced to self-isolate, “are still able to appeal to a court, while ensuring courts can continue to operate even in the height of an epidemic so that justice is delivered”.

It is not yet known when the emergency measures will be brought into effect. 

However, Anna Bradshaw, partner at Peters & Peters, warns that all emergency legislation carries risk: “The risk of expanding executive powers without sufficient legislative and judicial safeguards and scrutiny, the risk that untested measures will produce unintended consequences and disproportionate interference with individual rights, and the risk that temporary responses become permanent.  

“It is essential that the administration of justice continues to the fullest extent possible, but equally essential that the proposals are properly scrutinised with these risks in mind.”

Meanwhile, HM Courts and Tribunals Service has edited its security policy as far as liquids are concerned. 

While “liquids that are not drinks or prescription medicine” remain on the list of what is not allowed into court and tribunal buildings, the policy now states that hand sanitiser can be brought in, but individuals “will be asked to use it in front of security staff to prove it’s not harmful”.