Courts to Continue Operations as COVID-19 Variant Spreads
The UK government has deemed that current courtroom safety measures are sufficient to combat the mutated virus.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service has announced that safety measures currently implemented by courtrooms are sufficient to protect visitors and confirmed that the justice system will continue to operate during lockdown.
In its weekly operational update, HMCTS said that physical hearings would continue to be held in Tier 4 areas wherever necessary, an extension of advice issued in December when the highly contagious new variant of COVID-19 was first identified. HMCTS added that lawyers will also be allowed to stay away from home overnight for work purposes if it is deemed essential that they physically appear in court.
“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 the virus is the same, whatever the variant.”
The advice comes as more areas of the UK are expected to be placed under Tier 4 restrictions, in which residents must stay at home unless their physical presence is required for the purposes of work or education. The UK government has also not ruled out a full nationwide lockdown as the rise in COVID-19 cases accelerates.
To combat the strain placed on the legal sector by the pandemic, HMCTS is spending £110 million on emergency measures including the addition of Portakabin units, installing plexiglass barriers in workplaces and recruiting more staff.
Around 260 courtrooms have been assessed as being capable and available to hold jury trials. The Ministry of Justice has also begun to operate 18 Nightingale courts to ease the case backlog that has built up since March 2020.