Lockdown 2 begins but 'better prepared' courts stay open
By Nicola Laver
As the nation beds down into its second UK lockdown, the courts are continuing to operate
The nation is now bedding down into its second UK lockdown, but the courts are continuing to operate.
The courts and tribunals are exempt from the four-week lockdown measures announced by prime minister Boris Johnson on 31 October.
In response, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said: “It is vital for the well-being of the country that the administration of justice continues to operate, adding that “our experience since March has left us much better prepared”.
The Law Society welcomed the news that the courts would remain open given the significant case backlogs across both criminal and civil courts.
But president David Greene said safety “must be the overriding priority”,
He commented: “In the coming weeks, the government must carefully balance access to justice with the safety of all court users including staff, lawyers, jurors, the parties and judges.”
He said this may mean conducting more hearings remotely, where appropriate, to reduce the number of physical hearings.
“For cases which need to be heard in person”, he warned, “it is absolutely vital HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has the right safety measures in place and maintains clear and immediate communications with professionals and court users on what is happening in their court buildings during the lockdown.”
The Society has previously expressed deep concerns about safety in cells.
Greene called for HMCTS to have clear contingency plans so that it can respond quickly to any covid-19 outbreaks – “closing courts if needed and reassigning listed cases to other buildings in the courts and tribunals service”.
This week, HMCTS – which has assured court users that its buildings are covid-secure – announced the installation of temporary rooms for jury deliberations in the form of Portakabin buildings at seven court locations so far (Bradford, Grimsby, Hull, Leeds, Newcastle, Preston and Teesside.
It has also installed plexiglass screens in 223 court rooms and 146 jury deliberation rooms with further installations being planned later this month.