Coronavirus (COVID-19): courts and tribunals planning and preparation 

As of 16 March 2020, at 11:00am, when we talked to the Royal Courts of Justice, there were no known plans to shut the courts.

Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunal Service has provided advice and guidance for all court and tribunal users during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and will update the advice as new information becomes available.

HMCTS coronavirus preparation planning

During the current phase of the coronavirus outbreak, the business of the courts and tribunals continues. Any changes to individual hearings will be communicated directly to those affected in the usual way, usually by email and/or phone.

Coming to court or tribunal during the coronavirus outbreak

All court and tribunal users should read the latest information about prevention, treatment and travel. These include but are not limited to witnesses, those attending for jury service, professional courts users and justice system partners.

Stay at home for seven (7) days if you have either:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you’re staying at home. Read advice about staying at home

As long as you, or the people who are coming to court with you, do not have confirmed or possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and do not need to self-isolate in line with NHS advice, you should continue to use courts and tribunals as usual. This includes those attending for jury service. Please see HMCTS guidance on what to expect when coming to court and their guidance on entering a court or tribunal building.

However, if you, or the people who are coming to court with you, do have confirmed or possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and need to self-isolate in line with NHS advice, you should contact the court or tribunal in which the hearing is due to take place. You can find contact details on Courts and Tribunals Finder.

Government guidance is available for workplaces. Although courts and tribunals are not businesses, the principles should be applied to the work of courts and tribunals. HMTCS will follow this Government-wide advice in relation to managing our buildings and making decisions about keeping them open.

Hygiene in courts and tribunal buildings

Our buildings are cleaned every day and we’ll also respond swiftly to complaints about poor hygiene. If you see something of concern, please let the local team know so they can put things right.

We know how important it is for all court users – professional and public – to have confidence that they are using a building that is clean and safe. NHS advice is for people to wash their hands with soap and water, which is available in all courts and tribunals. Given the importance of handwashing at the moment, our cleaners will give extra attention to checking bathrooms and handwashing facilities.

We recently changed our security policy to allow people to bring hand sanitiser into our buildings – our security officers will ask you to use it to prove it’s not harmful.

Court security officers may ask you to move items inside your own bag or ask if they can do this themselves. You can ask them not to touch your belongings, and move them yourself, if you prefer.

Court security officers sometimes use a handheld scanner to search people coming to court, but neither this nor the officer will touch you.

The guidance for court security officers is the same as for the general public, that the best protection – for themselves and others – is to wash hands regularly with soap and water. We want to be responsible in making sure that, given the shortage of hand sanitiser, we do not introduce its use where it is not necessary in a way which might reduce the supply where it is essential.

We will continue to monitor and review the practice of court security officers in line with government advice and industry best practice.

How we will update you about the impact of coronavirus on courts and tribunals

If there are wider changes to the operational running of the courts this will be communicated in the first instance on our digital channels:

Video hearings during coronavirus outbreak

Judges can consider audio or video links in a number of circumstances. This includes, for example, an application to appeal refusal of bail in the crown court where a defendant does not need to attend in person, or in preliminary and enforcement hearings.

HMCTS priorities during coronavirus outbreak

HMCTS has strong business continuity plans to ensure they can respond to and continue their work in extraordinary circumstances, including public health outbreaks.

In managing their response to coronavirus, their priorities are to:

  • Maintain access to justice
  • Support decisions and directions made by the judiciary
  • Play their part in the cross-government and justice system-wide plans to deliver key services, protect the public and maintain confidence in the justice system
  • Support court sittings and answer public enquiries
  • Minimise disruption
  • Work with partners and stakeholders to deliver priorities
  • Monitor and subsequently manage any arrears of work that could accumulate in the worst-case scenario

More information and advice

Read the latest information about the Government’s coronavirus response and plans.

Up to date information as regards the courts and tribunals can be found on this link:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-courts-and-tribunals-planning-and-preparation

Neil Kelley, Head of Litigation, Griffin Law.