To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they plan to facilitate in-person court hearings in line with guidance in place during the COVID-19 pandemic; and if so, (1) how, (2) what will be the process for requesting an in-person hearing, and (3) what steps they will take to make relevant bodies aware that safe facilities can be provided.
HMCTS has in place a range of safety measures and controls, developed in line with and validated against, relevant public health standards to ensure court and tribunal buildings are Covid secure. This has enabled HMCTS to deliver its vital public services, including running in-person hearings, throughout the period affected by pandemic-related restrictions.
The framework of measures developed and implemented to ensure Covid-related risks are appropriately managed and controlled is set out in the HMCTS Organisational Risk Assessment . Among the measures embedded across the court and tribunal estate are significantly enhanced cleaning regimes, the provision of washing facilities and sanitiser throughout buildings for users as well as staff and judiciary, social distancing measures implemented, and a requirement for face coverings in all public and communal areas.
The requirement for social distancing inevitably has had an impact on the capacity to run physical hearings across the court and tribunal estate. HMCTS set out its plan to respond to these challenges in its Recovery Plan. Maximising the use of the existing court and tribunal estate (for example by introducing plexiglass screens into courtrooms and jury suites and considering innovative solutions around adopting different operating hours), as well as increasing that capacity through new Nightingale Courts, is helping HMCTS to list as many physical hearings as possible, but all managed against the framework of Covid-secure controls in place.
Decisions about the listing and management of hearings are ultimately for the judiciary. In terms of process, participants or representatives are asked to tell the court or tribunal if they need support or cannot participate effectively in a hearing within in any jurisdiction. The Judge can then either change the method of the hearing or reasonable adjustments will be made, wherever possible, to ensure users can participate.
HMCTS has published, and regularly updates, a full suite of information on its Covid-secure practices. Weekly updates are now sent direct to a range of key stakeholders, social media tools are routinely used to try to reach ever-wider audiences, and in all court and tribunal venues, clear signage is displayed to promote and explain our safety measures.