updated on 08 January 2021
Earlier in the week the government confirmed that courts will remain open during the latest coronavirus lockdown. The government’s guidelines set out “reasonable excuses” for leaving home, including “to fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court or jury service”.
Individuals can also leave their home to attend meetings within “criminal justice accommodation or immigration detention centres”.
Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP said: “Our courts and tribunals continue to be an essential public service, served by essential workers and meeting covid-secure standards endorsed by public health officials. With the use of remote hearings wherever appropriate, this vital work can and should continue.”
Meanwhile, Chris Philp MP explained that court and tribunal hearings are permitted to continue remotely or in person, and that professional court users are considered key workers so can send their children into school.
During the first lockdown in March 2020, fewer than 50% of buildings remained open for essential face-to-face hearings and since then £110 million has been invested to ensure the courts are safe for trials to go ahead, according to Philp.
The Bar Council released a statement in light of the current situation: “The guidance published on gov.uk tonight makes it plain that courts remain open and that those involved in the court system are exempt from lockdown rules.
“That said it is our clear expectation that judges in all jurisdictions will move to the remote hearing of cases wherever possible and as soon as possible. We hope that may be as soon as tomorrow morning in some courts. Indeed, some courts have already indicated that the default position is that all hearings save for trials will be remote.
“This is no more than common sense and respects the stricture to work from home unless you are unable to do so.”