The government is treating criminal barristers like ‘zero-hours workers’ and is endangering court users, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has said, demanding a national risk assessment for court buildings.
James Mulholland QC, chair of the CBA, said safety measures in courts have been ‘inconsistent for months’, with ‘sporadic’ levels of cleaning and a lack of social distancing.
‘There needs to be an agreed national risk assessment in place which is properly and consistently applied by each court to determine the safety of court users,' he wrote in his weekly message to members. 'We will seek a meeting with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that courts are inspected on a regular basis and to facilitate a process by which barristers can report individual courts which are failing to comply with basic safety requirements.'
Mulholland added that a national protocol for remote hearings is also ‘a matter of the greatest importance’.
‘Removing physical attendance at all hearings which can take place remotely and without disadvantage to the parties concerned is now essential to public health and in order to ensure that jury trials can continue in person. It should not be subject to the temperaments of individual judges in different court centres.’
Mulholland concluded that criminal barristers are ‘increasingly treated as zero-hours workers yet are expected to fulfil their duties without question’ and receive hourly rates ‘often equal to or less than the national minimum wage’.
Guidance published on Saturday confirmed that courts will continue to operate throughout the four-week period of lockdown, which begins on Thursday. People required to attend court will be able to leave home for this purpose.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.