We have now entered lockdown for the third time. The courts and tribunals must continue to function. The position remains that attendance in person where necessary is permitted under the proposed new regulations. This would include jurors, witnesses, and other professionals, who count as key workers. HMCTS will continue to put in place precautionary measures in accordance with Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines to minimise risk. All those attending court must abide by guidance concerning social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks etc. Judges and magistrates will have a role in making sure this happens.
In all our jurisdictions work, including jury trials, will continue as it did during the lockdown in November and, after initial hiccups, in the earlier and longer lockdown.
The success of the courts and tribunals in England and Wales in continuing to uphold the rule of law and sustain the administration of justice since March has been remarkable.
The significant increase in the incidence of COVID-19 coupled with the increase in rates of transmission makes it all the more important that footfall in our courts is kept to a minimum. No participant in legal proceedings should be required by a judge or magistrate to attend court unless it is necessary in the interests of justice. Facilitating remote attendance of all or some of those involved in hearings is the default position in all jurisdictions, whether backed by regulations or not.
The next few weeks will present difficulties in all jurisdictions. But as before judges, magistrates, staff, the legal profession and others involved in the system will meet them and ensure that the administration of justice continues to function in the public interest.
Lord Burnett of Maldon
Lord Chief Justice