Safety measures in courtrooms are sufficient to deal with the new mutation of coronavirus and the justice system will stay open during lockdown, HM Courts & Tribunals Service has announced.
In a weekly operational update, HMCTS confirmed that physical hearings will continue to take place in Tier 4 areas where necessary. Lawyers will also be allowed to stay overnight away from home for work purposes if their physical presence in court is deemed essential.
‘Public health experts have confirmed that existing Covid-secure arrangements remain sufficient in dealing with the challenges provided by the new mutation of the virus,’ HMCTS said.
‘Our buildings are not considered close contact settings and the measures we have put in place, as part of our Covid-19 risk management arrangements, are extensive and satisfy public health guidelines for a COVID-secure environment… The way to control this virus is the same, whatever the variant. It will not spread if we avoid close contact with others.’
More areas of the UK are expected to enter Tier 4 – in which residents must stay at home unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse' – in the coming days. Around 17 million people in London and the south east were put into Tier 4 shortly before Christmas after the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19.
Some 260 courtrooms have now been assessed as being capable and available to hold jury trials, and plexiglass screens have been installed in roughly 400 courtrooms and jury deliberation rooms.
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 emergency measures which include building Portakabin units, installing plexiglass and recruiting more staff, as well as opening Nightingale courts.