HM Courts & Tribunals Service is reopening another 16 courts this week after they were assessed to be suitable to holding socially-distanced hearings. Lord chancellor Robert Buckland QC said the latest development will give people confidence justice can continue to be done safely.
Around 159 courts have remained open during the Covid-19 pandemic. A further nine opened in the last few weeks. Today, HMCTS said each building at the 16 sites reopening this week has been individually assessed and will follow strict public health guidance.
The 16 courts are: Romford Magistrates’ Court, Barnet Civil and Family Centre, Derby Combined Court, Chesterfield Justice Centre, Mansfield Magistrates and County Court, Bolton Combined Court (Crown only), Southend County Court, Horsham Law Courts, Canterbury Combined Court, Aylesbury Crown Court, Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court, Salisbury Law Courts, Swindon Magistrates’ Court, Newport Crown Court, Merthyr Tydfil Combined Court, and Llandudno Magistrates’ Court.
Buckland said: ‘Throughout the coronavirus outbreak, court staff and the judiciary have worked tirelessly to make sure justice has not stood still and I’m pleased that we are now in a position to reopen more of our buildings. A functioning justice system is one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy and today’s update will give confidence to people up and down the country that justice can continue to be done in a way that is safe for all court users.’
The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, said a remarkable volume of work has continued through lockdown, much of it being conducted by judges from home. ‘Reopening all of the court estate, using additional accommodation and continuing to use technology imaginatively will enable us to return to and surpass pre-lockdown volumes, helping manage the growing caseload,’ he said.
A working group made up of government officials, judges, legal bodies and victims’ groups, is working on identifying so-called ‘nightingale’ courts, which would be based in public spaces such as civic centres or university moot courts, to allow traditional court buildings to safely manage more work.
Jury trials, which were paused at the start of lockdown, have returned at seven Crown courts.
*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.