The Bar Council and Circuit Leaders have been in close contact with HMCTS to feed in the Bar’s views and seek clarity on how courts will safely operate from 19 July, as the next step in lifting national Covid restrictions takes place. With social distancing no longer required in England from 19 July, HMCTS has reviewed its plans so that it can work within the new public health guidelines to safely increase capacity across courts and tribunals.

HMCTS will be publishing an updated risk assessment and further guidance on next week, confirming that:

  1. The number of people in court and tribunal buildings will gradually increase as HMCTS increases capacity safely to reduce outstanding cases. This will happen alongside continued use of audio and video technology to enable remote attendance and HMCTS will also continue to encourage the regular use of lateral flow tests.
  2. From 19 July 2021, based on government and Public Health expert advice, courts and tribunals in England will only be required to have minimal social distancing in place, but with the following measures:
  • Face coverings will still be required in staff, public and communal parts of court and tribunal buildings.
  • Based on the particular assessed risk to detainees and those working and visiting custody suites, these areas will continue with all social distancing measures introduced during the pandemic such as touchpoint cleaning, locked down phones, reduced numbers and fluid-resistant surgical masks (FRSMs).
  • To reduce the risk of the virus spreading, there will be continued use of screens or barriers to separate people from each other where they will come into close proximity with others they do not normally meet.
  • All of HMCTS’ estate has been assessed against Public Health guidance for ventilation and it will continue with existing ventilation standards. CO2 monitors will also be used as additional assurance in building areas identified through their risk assessment process.

These details will be kept under review in the light of any further guidance from various safety and public health organisations.

Bar leaders continue to press the case that remote hearings provide significant advantages in some cases, and that they should continue to be used in appropriate situations.

The Bar Council will share any further information that is made available over the coming days. If you have any questions, please sign up for the online panel discussion for legal professionals on Tuesday 27 July 2021.

Derek Sweeting QC, Chair of the Bar

Christine Agnew QC, Leader of the South Eastern Circuit

Kate Brunner QC, Leader of the Western Circuit

Michael Duck QC, Leader of the Midland Circuit

David Elias QC Leader of the Wales and Chester Circuit

Lisa Roberts QC, Leader of the Northern Cicruit

Richard Wright QC Leader of the North Eastern Circuit