Courts: Coronavirus

(asked on 22nd July 2021) - View Source

Question to the Ministry of Justice:

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what the consequences are for a (a) witness, (b) defendant, (c) complainant, (d) juror, (e) judicial office holder, (f) court employee and (g) visiting member of the public who does not wear a face mask in accordance with the mandatory covid-19 face covering policy in place from 19 July 2021.


Answered by
Chris Philp Portrait
Chris Philp
Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)
This question was answered on 10th September 2021

The relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions across respective parts of Great Britain this summer has allowed courts and tribunals to operate more flexibly, and so increasingly efficiently. But notwithstanding the success of the Government’s vaccine rollout, some safety measures must continue to remain in place.

There has never been a legal requirement to wear face coverings in a court or tribunal building. Regulations on the wearing of face coverings in place before 19 July in England, imposing criminal sanctions backed by appropriate enforcement powers, applied only in prescribed sectors like retail and transport. However, Public Health guidance has for some time made clear the benefits associated with face coverings, which other sectors have been encouraged to follow. Face coverings can help to minimise exposure to the virus, and therefore reduce the risk of transmission. Accordingly, and alongside a range of other measures embedded to manage Covid risks, in July 2020 HM Courts and Tribunals Service introduced a policy asking that face coverings be worn (unless exempt) across its estate, for the reasons set out in its Organisational Risk Assessment.

Given the lack of any prescribed legal requirement to wear face coverings in court and tribunal buildings, the compliance and enforcement options open to HMCTS before the 19th July are essentially the same as those after 19th July. In determining its policy, HMCTS has considered a range of factors, including the clear balance to be struck between ensuring reasonable compliance of the policy on face coverings, and not damaging the efficacy of proceedings before the court (for example, allowing those who are legally compelled to attend court to avoid that appearance by refusing to wear a covering).

Insofar as members of staff are concerned, HMCTS employees will continue to be required to wear face coverings in court and tribunal buildings, unless exemptions apply. All HMCTS employees have an obligation to follow HR policies. The consequences of non-compliance would be dealt with, as appropriate, under usual personnel management procedures. Members of the judiciary are similarly asked to wear face coverings in certain areas of court and tribunal buildings (not including, for example, whilst presiding in hearing rooms). Any compliance issues would be a matter for the leadership judiciary, not HMCTS.

For court and tribunal users including parties, witnesses, jurors, and members of the public, Court and Tribunal Security Officers (CTSOs) will ask that face coverings are worn upon entry into the buildings and will provide free face coverings if needed. Signage around the buildings make clear where face coverings are to be worn. Ultimately, under the Courts Act 2003 section 53, CTSOs have the power to exclude or remove any person from a building for the purposes of securing the safety of those in the building – which includes for these purposes considering non-compliance with reasonable requests in respect of face coverings introduced and maintained in line with prevailing Public Health guidance. In assessing the need for (and proportionality of) deploying those exclusion/removal powers, CTSOs (acting in consultation with HMCTS managers and the judiciary as necessary) will have regard to the balance between furthering public safety, and ensuring the ongoing efficacy of proceedings, as described above.

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