Court bosses today insisted that courts in Tier 4 areas of England will continue to open despite increased restrictions announced over the weekend.
Around 17 million people in London and across large parts of the south east were put into Tier 4 by the prime minister on Saturday after the discovery of a new variant of coronavirus.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service said today that buildings in affected areas continue to operate within Covid-secure guidelines, with no plans to change currently scheduled hearings. Under the restrictions, those involved in keeping the justice system running or fulfilling a legal obligation (including jury service) can continue to attend court and travel when required.
Justice minister Chris Philp MP tweeted over the weekend: ‘Courts & Tribunals will continue to operate as they have in recent months, including in Tier 4 areas. Jury trials will continue. This is because justice is an essential service and tens of millions of £s have been spent in the last few months making courts & tribunals Covid safe.’
Philp later added in response to a question about jury safety that social distancing, frequent cleaning and screens would ensure that trials could operate.
But the safety of physical court hearings continues to be an issue: it was confirmed on Friday that 17 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in the previous week after an outbreak at Oxford Combined Court Centre. HMCTS said the court building had been ‘deep cleaned’ and could continue to operate as normal. Oxfordshire is not one of the areas placed into Tier 4.
The Ministry of Justice is now operating 18 Nightingale courts – several in Tier 4 areas – to try to ease the backlog which has built up in the past nine months. An additional £110m has also been spent on measures to tackle Covid-19 in the courts.
Court and tribunal users must continue to wear a face covering in all public and communal parts of the buildings, including robing rooms.