Living with COVID-19: safety in court and tribunal buildings
Following the lifting of restrictions in February 2022, the government published its living with COVID-19 plan for England.
This marked a fundamental shift in approach from centrally led and legally mandated risk management interventions, to one based on communication of safer behaviours and personal responsibility for managing safety.
Your safety will continue to be a priority for us. To help keep you and all court users safe, and in the effort to reduce the spread of infection, we've updated our guidance and best practice based on government guidance.
In April 2022, the government issued:
- guidance for reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19 in the workplace
- revised guidance for Wales
The guidance sets out the actions you can take to help to reduce the risk of catching respiratory infections (including, but not limited to, COVID-19) and passing them onto others.
It makes clear that it's aimed at reducing the spread of all respiratory infections, and that there is no longer a requirement for all employers to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their statutory health and safety risk assessments.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) was asked to review and update its framework for keeping court and tribunal users safe in line with revised public health guidance.
While most of the safety controls in the buildings across England and Wales have been removed, HMCTS assures us that it will continue to:
- make sure court and tribunal buildings are sufficiently ventilated
- ensure buildings remain clean
- put in place arrangements to protect those at particular risk
If you have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to attend a hearing you should immediately contact the court or tribunal. HMCTS will consider alternative arrangements and individual requests on a case-by-case basis.
Many people with COVID-19 will no longer be infectious to others after five days. If you have a positive COVID-19 test result, you should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day you took your test.
Additional safety measures remain in place in line with HM Prisons and Probation Service guidance.
Fluid resistant safety masks are personal protective equipment rather than face coverings. They are still required in custody suites and by staff undertaking certain roles.
Defendants are encouraged to wear face coverings, but this is not mandatory.
The Prisoner Escort and Custody Service has published guidance on reviewing operating levels in court custody suites (Word 89 KB).
Face coverings are no longer mandatory in any parts of HMCTS buildings.
You can continue to wear a face covering if you want to.
Whenever you see unsafe practice in the courts, you should report it and escalate it until it's properly addressed.
HMCTS has published an escalation routes document for professional users (PDF 214 KB) which you should use to raise ‘real time’ concerns about the safety of courts and tribunals.
If you do not feel the issues you've raised have been appropriately addressed by any of the stages outlined in the escalation routes document, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you think that those responsible for a court building are not minimising the risks, following government guidance or are not carrying out their legal duties regarding health and safety and this has been pointed out to them, and no satisfactory response has been received, you can make a complaint to the Health and Safety Executive.
You can sign up to the professional users’ access scheme, which provides solicitors with an ID card that allows fast-track court access to HMCTS buildings.
There will be separate fast-access lanes for members of the scheme during the busiest times of the day, where possible.
Solicitor ID scheme
In 2022, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) began piloting manual searches in court and tribunal buildings.
Solicitors who’ve signed up to the court ID card scheme for professional users are not impacted by the pilot.
You should direct clients to GOV.UK guidance and advise them to arrive for hearings in good time.
What is the court ID card scheme?
All solicitors with a practising certificate can sign up for a court ID card, meaning they can access more than 300 HMCTS buildings without needing a routine security search on each visit.
The arrangement was developed in early 2021 to allow solicitors to register with the professional users’ access scheme by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association (LCCSA) and Criminal Law Solicitors' Association (CLSA), with investment from the Law Society.
Solicitors on the scheme may still be subject to random security screenings.
How to apply
Solicitors can apply for an ID card via the LCCSA and CLSA.
There is a small charge of £36 per year for solicitors who are not members of these organisations
You’ll also need to provide:
- a recent passport photograph
- your solicitor roll number
- further details about yourself and your organisation
See the CLSA and LCCSA websites for full details.
It may take around 10 working days before you receive your ID card.
Frequently asked questions
Is the scheme for all courts and tribunals?
Yes. As of January 2021, all 300 court premises in the HMCTS estate are live with the scheme and ID cards can be used at any of their premises.
Is the scheme just open for criminal solicitors?
No, all solicitors with a practising certificate can apply for a court ID card.
We’ve partnered with the LCCSA and CLSA in order to expedite the availability of cards and use existing card application processes that meet the requirements of HMCTS’ professional users' access scheme system.
Can solicitors have a QR code on their phone, like with the Bar Council Scheme?
Not at this time.
HMCTS’ system which was implemented in August 2020, does not allow for organisations joining the scheme to develop a smartphone-based ID check.
You should wash your hands regularly, either in the facilities or using hand sanitiser provided in the waiting areas or inside the court rooms.
You're permitted to (and it's recommended that you) bring your own hand sanitiser to court. Upon entering the court building, security officers will ask you to use it to make sure it's not harmful.
You should also have anti-viral wipes to hand for cleaning personal equipment such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones.
If there are any areas of the building which indicate poor hygiene or problems that would prevent you and other court users from washing your hands, or if there are low supplies of soap and paper towels, you should immediately notify court staff.