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Courts: Coronavirus

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 143924, tabled on 26 January 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps he is taking to safeguard (a) barristers, (b) solicitors, (c) court staff and (d) visitors against covid-19 infection and spread.

Answered on

3 February 2021

HM Courts and Tribunals Service has well entrenched safeguards to ensure safety of all people in its buildings. This includes members of the legal profession, HMCTS staff (including agency staff and contractors) and all court users.

The range of safety measures and controls in place have been developed in line with and are validated against, relevant public health standards to ensure court and tribunal buildings are Covid secure. The measures have all been reviewed in light of continually developing circumstances. This has enabled HMCTS to deliver its vital public services, including jury trials, throughout the period affected by pandemic-related restrictions.

The approach here is set out transparently in the HMCTS Organisational Risk Assessment. Data suggests that the level of Covid infections amongst Court staff has been in line with the national averages. Among the measures embedded across the court and tribunal estate are significantly enhanced cleaning regimes, the provision of washing facilities and sanitiser throughout buildings for users as well as staff and judiciary, social distancing measures implemented, and a requirement for face coverings throughout our buildings. Site-specific assessments are reviewed at least weekly, and are required to be undertaken in collaboration with staff and trade union colleagues. Court and Tribunal users can request copies of these assessments and engage local managers on the detail where appropriate.

HMCTS has published, and regularly updates, a full suite of information on its Covid-secure practices. Weekly updates are now sent direct to a range of key stakeholders, social media tools are routinely used to try to reach ever-wider audiences, and in all court and tribunal venues, clear signage is displayed to promote and explain our safety measures. Our senior team also participate in webinars and other tailored events for staff members, and engages regularly with professional representatives, contractor and system partners to address issues and concerns.

We have invested considerable effort to assure ourselves as to compliance on the ground, through management systems and independent audits. We also have responsive complaints and escalation procedures in case they are necessary. We ask all users of the courts and tribunals – including but not limited to jurors – to take personal responsibility, for adhering to the simple and well-understood hands/face/space protocols prevalent across society generally.