Latest Message from the Lord Chief Justice: latest COVID-19 restrictions
The Lord Chief Justice has issued a statement in relation to the latest covid restrictions . It can be read in full as below;
‘We have now entered lockdown for the third time. The courts and tribunals must continue to function. The position remains that attendance in person where necessary is permitted under the proposed new regulations. This would include jurors, witnesses, and other professionals, who count as key workers. HMCTS will continue to put in place precautionary measures in accordance with Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines to minimise risk. All those attending court must abide by guidance concerning social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks etc. Judges and magistrates will have a role in making sure this happens.
In all our jurisdictions work, including jury trials, will continue as it did during the lockdown in November and, after initial hiccups, in the earlier and longer lockdown.
The success of the courts and tribunals in England and Wales in continuing to uphold the rule of law and sustain the administration of justice since March has been remarkable.
The significant increase in the incidence of COVID-19 coupled with the increase in rates of transmission makes it all the more important that footfall in our courts is kept to a minimum. No participant in legal proceedings should be required by a judge or magistrate to attend court unless it is necessary in the interests of justice. Facilitating remote attendance of all or some of those involved in hearings is the default position in all jurisdictions, whether backed by regulations or not.
The next few weeks will present difficulties in all jurisdictions. But as before judges, magistrates, staff, the legal profession and others involved in the system will meet them and ensure that the administration of justice continues to function in the public interest.’
In response HHJ Robin Bedford (Designated Family Judge for Sussex) has written the below, which the FLBA endorses and commends the same to other Courts.
‘In the light of the recent lockdown, please would everyone note the following;
The current position being taken by the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS is that the courts will continue to function and that courts are Covid safe places.
That said, the latest guidance from the Lord Chief Justice makes clear that we should seek to reduce footfall in the courts where possible and that remote hearings should take place save where the interests of justice require otherwise.
In the light of this advice, please may I ask each of you to consider your upcoming hearings, and in cases where a face-to-face hearing of any type (including a hybrid hearing) has been listed, please consider whether it is still the case that you and/or your client feel that justice requires personal attendance. I would ask that you then liaise with your opponents in the case and form a view as to whether personal attendance in any form is still required.
In the event that there is a proposed change of plan then please inform the court immediately. If you know the name of the judge who is dealing with the case then please contact their clerk, otherwise please use the email address you would use in respect of any imminent hearing.
In so far as public law is concerned, we hope to put a procedure in place whereby the court will write to you asking for this information but it may be that this will take some time to be up and running.
In the event that your client does wish to appear remotely then please ensure that you discuss with them, and put in place, arrangements for them to be able to attend remotely. The last thing we want is for cases to have to be adjourned because of a lack of planning in relation to IT.
Ultimately the format of any hearing is of course a matter for the judge hearing the case and their approval will be required before any change to the arrangements.
If you do attend court then please would you ensure that you and your clients wear masks at all times (unless there is a medical reason not to do so) and that you strictly adhere to the rules regarding social distancing and the arrangements which have been put in place within the building to try to keep people safe. I am afraid to say that there have been reports of professionals not acting in an appropriate Covid - safe way and clearly this is something which we cannot tolerate, particularly in the light of the increasingly dangerous situation.
I know from the way in which everyone has behaved during the last nine months that there will again be yet another concerted effort by everyone to do everything that we can do to ensure that we do our respective jobs to the best our abilities in the very difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I really hope that things do start to improve soon but in the meantime we shall have to continue to deploy the skills which we have learnt so quickly over recent months and which have enabled us to provide a service in the hardest of times.’