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Covid-19: Tier 4 update – 23.12.20

Yesterday, the CBA officers met with HMCTS in order to discuss our concerns about the Government’s weekend announcement and the increasing number of covid-19 cases in tier 4 areas. We were keen to know what additional measures were going to be put in place to protect Court users, particularly the young bar attending Magistrates’ Courts over the festive break.

HMCTS informed us that both Public Health England and Public Health Wales officials had been asked whether the measures currently in place within the Courts required modification.  The answer given to HMCTS was a resounding no. The guidance remains as it was – we must maintain social distancing at all times, wear a mask in the public areas of buildings and ensure that we regularly clean our hands throughout the day. Those mitigations, coupled with the measures already taken by HMCTS within the courts, have been assessed by PHE and PHW as sufficient, even in the tier 4 areas.

HMCTS cannot rule out the risk of Court users contracting covid-19. However, they are confident that the measures already in place work when everyone follows the essential safety measures. HMCTS inform us that they have conducted an extensive  investigation into every covid-19 case reported within the Court estate and the infection rate of those contracting covid-19 at Court is lower than the national average. Almost all cases involve the virus having been contracted outside the court estate. The exceptions are when there has been a failure to follow the measures currently in place within the Court building. HMCTS have told us they are confident that the measures already in place, if followed correctly, will substantially reduce the risk of Court users contracting covid-19.  We all want the same thing, to keep everyone (barristers, solicitors, defendants, witnesses, Court staff etc) as safe as possible.

In light of what we have been told by HMCTS, our advice to CBA members has not changed. HMCTS accept that the risk of contracting covid-19 cannot be completely ruled out, even if there is full compliance with the measures currently in place within the Court estate. Each of you will have to consider the views expressed by public health officials and the reassurances provided by HMCTS before assessing whether you are prepared to take the risk of attending Court; ultimately it must be a judgment call for each individual barrister. We encourage each chambers to consider carefully the position of their pupils and junior tenants, particularly over the festive period. No individual should be placed under any pressure to attend Court.

If you attend court and find that the conditions there are not in compliance with the safety measures contained in the guidance, whatever decision you make about your own continued attendance, we urge you to consider lodging any complaint using the procedure provided by HMCTS using this link.

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