HM Courts & Tribunals Service received reports of confirmed Covid-19 cases among staff, judges, jurors and court users based at 95 court sites in less than a month, according to latest figures released by the Ministry of Justice.
Labour’s Alex Cunningham, shadow minister for courts and sentencing, asked the department how many coronavirus cases were confirmed from 26 January to the most recent day.
Figures published by courts minister Chris Philp last week show that, between 26 January and 19 February, HMCTS received reports of confirmed cases for 82 staff, 16 judges, 13 jurors and 53 court users across 95 court locations.
Staff at 48 courts tested positive for Covid-19, including eight staff members at Bromley County and Family Court. Judges at 14 courts, jurors at 12 courts and court users at 40 courts also had the coronavirus.
Philp said: ‘Due to the time taken for individuals to take a test, receive test results, and then communicate this to HMCTS (which is then recorded against the date initially reported) further cases may be added after the time of publishing. The table only includes court locations within the HMCTS estate where we have learnt about a new positive case within the dates given above. All other court sites have not reported any new cases between these dates. There should be no assumption that a positive case indicates that there has been transmission within a court building.’
Philp said the positive test rates were falling in line with national numbers and the incident rate among staff was trending around the national average.
Cunningham told the Gazette: 'It is vital that the justice system remains open, but it is not fair to ask legal practitioners and court users to pay the price for this government’s incompetence by putting their health and safety at risk.
'The government must rapidly increase the provision of Nightingale courts, begin the immediate rollout of testing in courts, and temporarily reduce the size of juries. There is no more time for pilots and tinkering at the edges – these changes must be made now so that justice can be done.'
Earlier this year it emerged that nearly 600 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed among court users between 24 November and 11 January.
In its latest operational update, HMCTS said jurors must now wear fluid resistant surgical masks, provided by the court, in smaller deliberations rooms that operate with 1m distancing plus other safety mitigations. To keep footfall down, court users who need support are encouraged to bring only one person with them, such as a friend or family member. A Nightingale court opening at Birmingham Maple House this week will provide four additional courtrooms for crown, civil and family work. A temporary court is also being opened at London’s Barbican, providing two courtrooms for Crown court work.