Contingency planning – courts and tribunals: Statement from the Lord Chief Justice and President of Tribunals

“Contingency planning – courts and tribunals

1. The COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid spread of the virus around the country presents an unprecedented challenge to all those involved in the administration of justice.

2. It is vital to maintain a functioning court and tribunal system in support of the administration of justice and the rule of law in the face of this public health emergency.

3. Detailed planning has been undertaken in the face of this emergency, and the inevitability that it will not be possible for all courts and tribunal buildings to function normally. The judiciary, HMCTS and the MoJ have all been involved, as have other agencies and bodies. The speed at which it has been necessary to develop these plans has meant that wide consultation has not proved possible.

4. The approach announced by the Prime Minister last Monday, 23 March 2020 led to immediate adjustments to the operations of the courts and tribunals beyond those already put in place some weeks ago. The time has come to put this plan into action because of the increasing difficulty in maintaining the functioning of all of our buildings. Numbers of HMCTS staff, security staff and cleaners able to be at work has substantially diminished and many judges are forced to be at home. The intention is to keep some buildings open in the face of these difficulties to enable the many types of work that cannot be carried out remotely, to continue.

5. The plan divides our court and tribunal estate into three categories:

(a) Courts that will remain open for all purposes, including hearings in which the judge and at least some of the participants are present, and to which the public and professions have physical access: open courts;
(b) Courts which will remain staffed and which judges can attend to deal with administrative matters and some remote hearings: staffed court;
(c) Courts which for the time being will not be staffed: suspended court.

These changes will be implemented from Monday, 30 March 2020.

6. Flexibility and innovation will be needed to make the best use of the facilities available. Enhancement of the capacity for phone and video hearings is taking place together with a review of the use of other platforms. Assistance will also be given to the Coronial jurisdiction.

7. [relates to use of judicial intranet]

8. This plan responds to the unprecedented emergency faced by the country. None of us knows for how long it will be necessary to operate in this way. Events continue to unfold at speed and which may require these plans to be changed. Plans are already being made to open courts, the use of which has been temporarily suspended, as soon as circumstances allow.


The Lord Burnett of Maldon
Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales

Sir Ernest Ryder
Senior President of Tribunals”