Coronavirus (COVID-19) best practice for member safety in court and tribunal buildings

We regularly liaise with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to ensure that essential safety measures are in place for solicitors, and all court users, who must attend a court or tribunal building.

We're also in contact with our members attending court on a regular basis and have been listening to their concerns.

To help in the effort to reduce the spread of infection, we've set out some best practice that you should follow to keep yourselves and others safe.

When not to attend

You must not attend a court or tribunal building if you:

  • have coronavirus symptoms: a new continuous cough; a high temperature; a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of smell or taste
  • have tested positive for COVID-19
  • are waiting for a test result
  • have been instructed by the NHS to self-isolate (you must observe quarantine unless explicitly required to attend court)

If any of these apply to you, you should contact the court or tribunal to allow for suitable arrangements to be made in preparation for your hearing.

Find a court or tribunal

Risk assessments

If you have concerns about your health and safety, you can contact the court prior to attending and request a copy of the courts risk assessment.

This will allow you to:

  • make sure that the courts apply the guidelines effectively
  • raise concerns if that is not happening

If you're contacting your local court by email, we suggest that you address the request for the attention of the senior person on site.

These assessments should be made readily available, but if not, you can email us at hmctscourtreform@lawsociety.org.uk.

Face coverings

You must wear a face covering when entering, moving around and leaving a court or tribunal building.

Face coverings must be worn in all public and communal parts inside, including corridors, consultation rooms, the facilities, lifts and cell areas, as well as the surrounding areas of the building.

This is a very important rule to adhere to in order to keep coronavirus numbers down.

You may be asked to temporarily remove your face covering for identification purposes, when speaking in court, or if you need to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a practical reason not to do so:

If any of these exemptions apply to you, you may feel comfortable showing an exemption card. This is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.

Social distancing

Wearing a face covering is not a reason to reduce or abandon social distancing.

You must maintain social distancing whilst inside the court buildings by keeping a two metre gap between people when not wearing a face covering, or one metre with a face covering. This includes:

  • when queuing and going through security
  • entering or leaving courtrooms
  • using 'one-in, one-out' systems for lift entry and exit

You should also avoid moving any furniture within the court room or consultation rooms which have been positioned to ensure social distancing can be adhered to.

Cleanliness and hygiene measures

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. This will reduce the need to move unnecessarily around the building and will be easily accessible. Upon entering the court building, security officers will ask you to use it to make sure it is not harmful.

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 or the daytime cleaners who will be wearing high visibility 'cleaning support' jackets.

Time spent in the building

To reduce the time spent in the premises, when a hearing has finished you should leave the building as soon as possible.

We understand this may not be possible in certain instances, such as if:

  • you need to speak to you client afterwards
  • a client has a custodial sentence and you're required to see them in the custody suite/cell areas
  • you have another hearing listed at a different time

If you're required to attend court for a number of hearings in one day, you should enquire as to whether it's possible for these to be block listed.

Cell areas

Depending on the building, HMCTS will provide facilities for you to communicate remotely, either by secure phone or other secure device, with your client in the cell areas. If this is not possible, you must wear a face covering (unless exempt) when attending the cells.

Maintaining social distancing in these areas can be very difficult, therefore staff in all cell areas/custody suites will be wearing PPE.

It must be noted that cell areas/custody suites’ arrangements are very variable in each court. Some interview rooms are screened while others are not.

If you have a concern about what arrangements are in place, you should contact the court in advance of your attendance.

Prisoners are encouraged to wear masks, but it is not a legal requirement, and this is something to be aware of before attending.

Reporting concerns

If you have any immediate concerns about safety and hygiene/cleanliness you should raise these with the court manager and/or the presiding judge/magistrates.

If you do not feel the issues you have raised have been appropriately addressed, we encourage you to report any concerning practice and safety/hygiene/cleanliness concerns you see on the ground by:

Further resources

Guidance for contacts of people with confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection who do not live with the person

Guidance on attending a court hearing in person

Advice and guidance for all court and tribunal users during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

HMCTS weekly operational summary on courts and tribunals during coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Our press release: Lawyers should not be allowed to break quarantine to attend hearings