Courts will remain open during the new Covid-19 restrictions applying across England, the government confirmed last night. Guidelines state that reasonable excuses for leaving home during lockdown include fulfilment of legal obligations, such as attending court as a lawyer or jury member, or to carry out activities relating to buying, selling or letting a home.
People are also allowed to leave home for meetings within prisons or immigration detention centres.
The position on courts is in contrast to the situation in March during the first lockdown, when fewer than half of buildings were kept open for essential face-to-face hearings.
Lord chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP said: ‘Our courts & tribunals continue to be an essential public service, served by essential workers and meeting Covid-secure standards endorsed by public health officials. With the use of remote hearings wherever appropriate, this vital work can and should continue.’
His justice colleague Chris Philp MP said court and tribunal hearings, inclduing jury trials, can carry on either remotely or in person. He also confirmed that professional court users count as key workers so can place their children in school.
Philp added: ‘Professional users, jurors and witnesses should continue to attend. We are grateful for all you do to ensure access to justice.’
He said that £110m had been spent in recent months to make courts safe and that trials should go ahead where necessary. Those attending court in person should wear a face mask at all times.
In a statement, the leaders of the Bar Council and regional circuits said their joint position was that lawyers should continue to attend at court unless they are instructed not to do so by the judge conducting the hearing. They said: ‘The guidance published on gov.uk tonight makes it plain that courts remain open and that those involved in the court system are exempt from lockdown rules.
‘That said it is our clear expectation that judges in all jurisdictions will move to the remote hearing of cases wherever possible and as soon as possible. We hope that may be as soon as tomorrow morning in some courts. Indeed, some courts have already indicated that the default position is that all hearings save for trials will be remote.
‘This is no more than common sense and respects the stricture to work from home unless you are unable to do so.’