No plans are in place to test court users for coronavirus before they attend in-person trials, the government said today, as lawyers claim the criminal justice system cannot function without further safety measures.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service said Covid testing in courts is kept under constant review by the Department for Health and Social Care. However, the current position is that court users such as lawyers, jurors and witnesses will not be tested for the virus before entering the court estate.

A HMCTS spokesperson said: ‘We are in a much stronger position to manage the impact of the pandemic compared to last spring, and public health experts have confirmed our measures remain sufficient to deal with the new strain of the virus.

Covid testing sign

Criminal lawyers say the justice system cannot continue to function without on-site testing

Source: Maureen McLean/Shutterstock

These include plexiglass screens in court rooms, remote technology, and social distancing measures which have been introduced across the estate.’

However, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the criminal justice system cannot continue to operate without rapid testing.

James Mulholland QC, chair of the CBA, said: ‘If testing was made available for the lorry drivers piling up at Dover and other ports before Christmas, it must be made available to help address backlogs as trials queue up for a courtroom.

‘If it is sufficiently important that our children are tested then it must be sufficiently important for all court users to have kits present at court if criminal justice is to continue to function.’ 

Mulholland said defendants in custody also need to be tested before they arrive at court for trial.

‘Whilst court rooms are generally large and well ventilated, cell areas are not. We need to learn important lessons from the discharge of individuals from hospitals into care homes. Additionally, mass testing needs to be considered in situations where individuals in a particular court have tested positive for the virus.’