An expansion of face-to-face hearings are planned as more court and tribunal buildings open across England and Wales as the pandemic restrictions are lifted.
One hundred and fifty-nine HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) locations have remained open throughout the pandemic and a further 9 have opened in June. This, together with the significant increase in use of remote audio and video technology, has enabled the justice system to continue functioning in these exceptional circumstances.
Now, 16 more sites have been assessed as suitable to hold socially-distanced hearings. These are spread across the country and across all jurisdictions. Each building has been individually assessed and will strictly follow public health guidance to ensure the protection and safety of all court users.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government and the Judiciary have announced through HMCTS:
• A network of priority courts that have remained open to ensure justice is served
• New video technology to keep the criminal justice system functioning remotely
• The resumption of jury trials in a select number of courts
There are now 184 court and tribunal buildings open for essential face-to-face hearings, representing 54% of the 341 crown, magistrates, county and family courts and tribunals across England and Wales.
Work has also begun to identify suitable venues to house so-called ‘Nightingale’ courts. These would use public spaces, such as civic centres or university moot courts, to allow traditional court buildings to manage more work while maintaining social distancing – whether that be by hosting full hearings or allowing victims and witnesses to attend remotely.
A working group has been established to develop these plans, made up of HMCTS officials, the judiciary, legal professional bodies, representatives of victims’ groups and other court users.
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