Safety the priority as the wheels of justice keep turning

As we embark on another national lockdown with the new COVID variant spreading rapidly, courts and tribunals continue to be up and running.

“Given the substantial backlog of cases in the criminal courts – greatly exacerbated by the pandemic – it is vital to ensure as far as safely possible that the process of justice continues,” Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene said.

“Justice is already being delayed for victims, witnesses and defendants, who have proceedings hanging over them for months, if not years, with trials now being listed for 2022.

“The safety of all courts users is paramount, especially given the new more easily transmissible Coronavirus variant.

“We welcome the steps the government has taken to make the courts as safe as possible but it is essential these meet the added risk of the new variant and there is effective enforcement to ensure that individual courts are applying the measures effectively.

“Risk assessments must be up to date and readily available to all those expected to attend court and safety measures including social distancing and the wearing of face coverings should be strictly enforced.

“We strongly endorse the lord chief justice’s position that ‘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’.*

“In light of the need to minimise court attendance, we must ask again for a solution to the problems arising from the police withdrawal from facilitating virtual remand hearings, with the necessary funding to be provided to allow such hearings to continue.

“Given the higher transmissibility of the new variant it is even more important to roll out further Nightingale courts because increasing the number of locations where cases can be held is a safer way of generating more capacity than forcing more people into the existing court buildings which are often old and do not allow for social distancing.

“All those who play their part in keeping the wheels of justice turning – including our members, many of whom are in an ageing demographic – must be provided with as safe a working environment as possible.”

Notes to editors

*Message from the lord chief justice

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