Fewer than half of courts and tribunals will remain open for face-to-face hearings as part of efforts to maintain a “core justice system focused on the most essential cases”, the government has announced.
There will be 157 priority court and tribunal buildings staying open from Monday, 42% of the total court estate, and there will be a focus on ensuring effective social distancing for all court users.
A statement from HM Courts & Tribunals Service said this would help also by focusing cleaning and security work on fewer buildings.
A further 124 court and tribunal buildings will be closed to the public but open to HMCTS staff, the judiciary and those from other agencies to support video and telephone hearings, progress cases without hearings and “ensure continued access to justice”.
Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said: “With each part of our justice system – from police to probation – dependent on one another, it is vital that we keep our courts running.
“This will only be done while ensuring the safety of the public, judges, legal professionals, staff and all those attending hearings and I’d like to thank everyone for their extraordinary efforts so far.”
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, said: “An extraordinary amount of hard work has gone into keeping our justice system functioning. Technology is being used creatively to ensure that many cases can continue. Not everything can be dealt with remotely and so we need to maintain functioning courts.
“These temporary adjustments to how we use the court estate will help ensure that we can continue to deal with work appropriately in all jurisdictions whilst safeguarding the well-being of all those who work in and visit the courts.”
Journalists and members of the public will be able to attend priority court hearings in person, if safe to do so in line with Public Health England guidance, HMCTS said.
“Where this is not possible, judicial consideration will be given to them joining a hearing remotely or a transcript provided afterwards.”
A list of open courts is available here.
Meanwhile, the second emergency practice direction relating to the pandemic has been published and come into immediate effect today.
New Practice Direction 51Z, which follows the Coronavirus Act 2020 emergency legislation, provides that all proceedings for housing possession brought under CPR part 55 and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession by a warrant or writ of possession are stayed for a period of 90 days. Claims for injunctive relief are not subject to the stay.
The practice direction ceases to have effect on 30 October 2020.
On Wednesday, a practice direction on open justice for remote hearings was published.