Lawyers should not be allowed to break quarantine to attend hearings

Legal professionals should not be permitted to break quarantine to attend hearings and tribunals, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have been absolutely clear that the health and safety of all courts users is of the utmost importance, while recognising the need to keep the wheels of justice turning,” said Law Society president Simon Davis.

“Earlier this week, the government clarified that anyone required to attend an in-person hearing returning from non-exempt countries – including solicitors and barristers – will be allowed to break the mandatory 14 day self-isolation period to attend court or tribunal hearings. After attending the hearing, they should then continue their self-isolation.*

“Allowing lawyers to break quarantine to attend hearings will increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission and pose a significant danger to court users – particularly from those who may attend court unaware that they are an asymptomatic carrier.

“I would urge anybody in this situation to consider fully the potential health implications for other court users if they were to break their self-isolation period to attend in person.

“This measure poses an even greater risk to BAME practitioners and court users, and those with underlying health conditions or who have vulnerable family members – who all already fall in higher risk categories for COVID-19.

“If this results in an outbreak, courts which urgently need to be operating will have to shut down – damaging the government’s court recovery plan and adding to the ever-increasing case backlogs in our justice system.”

Earlier this month, HM Courts and Tribunals Service confirmed eight staff members and contractors at Manchester Crown Court had tested positive for COVID-19.

Manchester Crown Court has been closed since 10 August to allow for compensatory measures and staff to complete their self-isolation and any urgent work has moved to Minshull Street.**

Simon Davis added: “Communications around any future COVID-19 outbreaks must be much clearer. It is vital solicitors and other court users know what is happening in courts and tribunals buildings at all times – especially if a staff member has displayed any COVID-19 symptoms.

“There must be tailored and effective communications systems in place so that court users are immediately aware of any potential outbreaks or safety concerns and are able to make informed decisions.

“Risk assessments – including reference to any confirmed recent COVID-19 cases – should be readily available for all court users as soon as they are requested and the reporting systems for such incidents should be transparent and communicated with court users.

“Allowing people to break quarantine to attend court and not having effective systems in place to communicate outbreaks in the court puts lives at risk.”

Notes to editors

*See the Bar Council’s statement on the quarantine exemption.

**Read HMCTS’s recent update on the COVID-19 outbreak at Manchester Crown Court.

At the end of July 2020, the criminal case backlogs stood at more than 560,000 across the magistrates and crown courts. See HMCTS figures.

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