The courts: Give lawyers a safe working environment, says Law Society
By Nicola Laver
The Law Society has stressed that safety must be prioritised, after Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said the courts and tribunals must continue to function
The Law Society has stressed that safety must be prioritised, after Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said the courts and tribunals must continue to function, as the UK begins a third lockdown.
Lord Burnett acknowledged that the next few weeks will present difficulties in all jurisdictions but added: “The position remains that attendance in person where necessary is permitted under the proposed new regulations. This would include jurors, witnesses, and other professionals, who count as key workers.
“HMCTS will continue to put in place precautionary measures in accordance with Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines to minimise risk.
“In all our jurisdictions work, including jury trials, will continue as it did during the lockdown in November and, after initial hiccups, in the earlier and longer lockdown.”
He said: “No participant in legal proceedings should be required by a judge or magistrate to attend court unless it is necessary in the interests of justice.
Facilitating remote attendance of all or some of those involved in hearings is the default position in all jurisdictions, whether backed by regulations or not.”
But Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene said that given the substantial backlog of cases in the criminal courts, “it is vital to ensure as far as safely possible that the process of justice continues”.
He added: “The safety of all courts users is paramount, especially given the new more easily transmissible Coronavirus variant.
“We welcome the steps the government has taken to make the courts as safe as possible, but it is essential these meet the added risk of the new variant and there is effective enforcement to ensure that individual courts are applying the measures effectively.
“Risk assessments must be up-to-date and readily available to all those expected to attend court and safety measures including social distancing and the wearing of face coverings should be strictly enforced.”
The Society strongly endorsed Lord Burnett’s position that participants in legal proceedings should not be required to attend court unless it is necessary in the interests of justice.
But Greene repeated calls for a “solution to the problems arising from the police withdrawal from facilitating virtual remand hearings” along with the funding required to enable such hearings to continue.
Greene also called for more Nightingale courts to be rolled out to create more court capacity and a safer space, in light of the new variant.
“All those who play their part in keeping the wheels of justice turning – including our members, many of whom are in an ageing demographic – must be provided with as safe a working environment as possible,” he added.