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HMCTS Safety Message – April 2021

As the country unlocks and restrictions ease, I, like many of you, am enjoying seeing more of my friends and family. I’m looking forward to summer as we follow the government’s roadmap out of lockdown and the vaccine programme continues at pace.

And there is good news in our courts and tribunals too. Positive cases amongst HMCTS staff and users have fallen significantly in line with the decrease in community cases as the vaccine is rolled out and the restrictions of the last lockdown take effect.  I am grateful to everyone – from my HMCTS colleagues, to the judiciary, professional court users and all those attending our sites – for your combined effort to keep our courts safe and the wheels of justice turning.

I’m writing to reassure you that, as we follow the government’s roadmap, safety remains our priority. We will always follow public health advice and for now this means:

  • Robust safety measures remain in place – from social distancing to plexiglass screens, face coverings in court and remote hearings (where a judge decides it’s appropriate). Please tell us if you have concerns or questionsabout any of these.
  • Everyone must continue to observe hands, face, space guidance and stay away from court if you have symptoms, a positive PCR or lateral flow test result.
  • We will continue to manage any cases we identify quickly and robustly – notifying any close contacts and keeping court users informed while maintaining individuals’ confidentiality. If you receive a positive test result and have recently visited a court or tribunal, it’s important that you promptly inform us so we can take the appropriate follow-up action.
  • There has been no relaxation in our approach. We will continue weekly risk assessments, maintain rigorous cleaning regimes cleaning, regularly check ventilation systems and review our safety measures.

In fact, we continue to review our approach and introduce extra measures to combat the spread of the virus. We’re in the middle of rolling out rapid home testing kits for collection from all our courts and tribunals (available alongside the government’s home test service in England) and we’re providing fluid resistant surgical masks for professional court users in custody suites.

But we must be prepared for the impact as society opens up, people start to mix and new variants emerge. Over the coming weeks and months, in line with the roadmap out of lockdown, we might see:

  • Community cases increase, and therefore a corresponding increase in cases among all court users.
  • More surge testing and case tracking in local communities and workplaces as public health organisations seek out new variants. It’s important for you to use the QR codes at all our sites so that we can support the national effort to track and trace the virus.
  • Changes in public health advice and therefore changes in our approach.

I want to reassure you that, in this time of transition, safety remains our top priority and the measures we’re taking are robust. And we will remain vigilant – reviewing our approach in line with the latest guidance, introducing and adjusting safety measures as needed, and encouraging everyone to follow the hands, face, space, air advice. We will keep you informed of any updates and you can check Find a Court and Tribunal (FaCT) for the status of every site, including contact details.

I am grateful for your support, feedback and perseverance in the face of COVID. But with an end to restrictions in sight, we cannot relax. To keep the wheels of justice turning, we must continue to keep ourselves, our colleagues, our fellow court users and the public safe. And we must do this – as we have done so far – together.