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Courts: Coronavirus

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN HL13523, tabled on 22 February 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that COVID-19 safety protocols are being enforced in courthouses; and what plans they have to recruit more court support staff in response to the pandemic.

Answered on

8 March 2021

HM Courts and Tribunals Service has well entrenched safeguards to ensure safety of all people in its buildings and we have a transparent framework in place to ensure these safeguards are adhered to.

We have worked closely with public health organisations Public Health England, Public Health Wales and Public Health Scotland, and with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to develop this framework which includes the Organisational Risk Assessment and the Local Risk Assessment Tool which mandates a weekly - site specific - risk assessment is undertaken by local managers. Information is fed through governance chains including regional senior management, who ensure consistency, and confirm that the processes are embedded and effective. Assessments are shared with a wide range of stakeholders.

Spot checks validate the assurances provided through the Local Assessments. These are conducted by our Assurance function and independently by qualified health and safety consultants. Furthermore, a Government Internal Audit Agency review of our internal Covid-19 health and safety processes, including compliance, concluded that our framework of governance, risk management and control was largely adequate and effective, with no significant weaknesses requiring remedial action.

At least 20 external regulatory interventions (e.g. HSE or local authority Environment Health Team visits) have taken place in HMCTS buildings. In all but one case the inspection team has been satisfied both by our standards and their implementation on the ground.

We also invite all staff and court users to report concerns so that they can be addressed. Concerns can be raised via local management; ‘Let Us Know’ or the newly established regional escalation route.

Insofar as staffing is concerned, recruitment commenced from June 2020, to bring in an additional 1600 people to support the work of the courts in tackling backlogs and to increase capacity in our courts including Crown Courts.

Of the 1600 people required, 1227 are already in post, and a further 354 individuals are undergoing clearances, and expected to join in the next few weeks.

In addition, more court clerks and court administrative staff are being recruited to support the running of Nightingale courts and existing courts to increase sitting day capacity.