Solicitors’ leaders in fresh warning over court safety

London’s Isleworth Crown Court failed a COVID safety inspection by the Health and Safety Executive. This has prompted the Law Society of England and Wales to remind HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) of the need for safety policies to be put fully into effect to ensure access to justice in a safe environment.

“Even though we may be seeing a planned exit from the pandemic it remains absolutely essential that all court users can be assured of the safety of the court environment,” said Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene.

“If that cannot be assured, as appears to be the case at Isleworth, HMCTS must take immediate action – including possibly closing a court – until it can be.

“We remain absolutely concerned about the dangers associated with the spread of coronavirus and the safety of everyone working in our courts.

“While we know that all those working at courts are achieving a great deal, solicitors continue to raise numerous concerns with us on the potential risks they face when attending court.”

Some of the issues reported to us by members include but are not limited to:

  • the enforcement of, and adherence to, government guidance such as court users wearing face coverings in public and communal areas of court buildings
  • being required to attend in-person hearings for matters which, during the current climate, could reasonably be dealt with via remote means, resulting in travel to court and increased footfall within the courts
  • having to take instructions in confined and unventilated rooms where social distancing is impossible to maintain
  • concerns around the frequency of cleaning including touch point cleaning

“The situation with Isleworth suggests that more needs to be done to keep the wheels of justice turning safely, and we urge HMCTS even at this late hour to take steps to protect court users from this deadly illness,” added David Greene.

“We have been working very closely with HMCTS over the past months. Longer term we are still seeking further reassurances from HMCTS – for example we’d like them to provide clarity as to their contingency planning in case the COVID-19 crisis takes an unexpected turn.”

Meanwhile Mark Evans, who chairs the Law Society’s Wales committee said: “Solicitors in all parts of Wales are all very anxious about COVID-19 safety in both the Magistrates and Crown Courts. The Law Society in Wales takes the safety of our members, court staff and clients very seriously and views it as an absolute priority.”

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