Courts: Coronavirus

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 12th February 2021.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the (a) social distancing, (b) cleaning, (c) workplace incident control, (d) ventilation arrangements and (e) other safety arrangements in Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service in keeping staff and court users safe; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Maintaining access to justice while keeping people safe is HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) top priority. As an essential public service, courts and tribunals have remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We have invested an additional £110m so all of our buildings are COVID-secure and can continue to operate safely.

We closely follow all Public Health and government advice on COVID-secure arrangements and update our policies to meet any new guidelines. Our approach to risk assessment is set out in our Organisational Risk Assessment (ORA) published at the start of the pandemic. It’s implemented on the ground by site-specific local risk assessments which are carried out and reviewed at least weekly, to review the measures in place and make sure they continue to meet the safety controls to the standard required.

Our range of control measures include:

  • social distancing floor markings and signage
  • regular touchpoint cleaning of high-traffic areas, including doors, lift buttons and handrails
  • supplies of soap and hand sanitiser
  • ventilation through natural or mechanical ventilation at all times
  • rearranged courtroom layouts
  • plexiglass screens in over 450 courtrooms and jury deliberation rooms
  • limitations on the number of people allowed in our buildings
  • maximum occupancy levels for consultation and courtrooms
  • one-way or one in, one out systems
  • a requirement for face coverings to be worn in public and communal areas of our buildings.

Public health experts have confirmed these are sufficient, including to deal with the new variant of the virus. We’re confident these measures meet COVID-secure guidelines through:

  • regular local risk assessments
  • on site marshalling to monitor social distancing
  • internal management checks
  • spot checks performed by our national Assurance team
  • a contracted external partner to conduct inspections
  • external public health and regulatory visits.

We also have an internal HMCTS Workplace Standards Group which continues to oversee our practice and methodology for maintaining hygienic, safe buildings in line with government guidance.

All suspected incidents and/or confirmed cases of COVID-19 within our court and tribunal buildings in England and Wales, and tribunals in Scotland, are reported to HMCTS. Where there are two or more confirmed cases or an increase in suspected incidents within 14 days linked to a single site, a national team provides additional support and guidance to local court and tribunals in managing the response, and early identification of close contacts so they can be informed to self-isolate in support of NHS Test and Trace.

In line with public health guidance, where there are five or more confirmed cases (for England) or two or more confirmed cases (for Wales and Scotland) within a 14-day period we will refer them to local health protection teams who will assess the individual circumstances and provide any further advice and guidance. COVID-19 cases in HMCTS are in line with national trends and transmission within the estate is limited due to the mitigations in place.

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