HMCTS GUIDANCE “Keeping court and tribunal buildings safe, secure and clean”
HMCTS have recently updated their guidance about security, cleaning and social-distancing arrangements in court and tribunal buildings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Some of the guidance puts obligations on lawyers and court users. Having successfully avoided the pun for two months it is time to stress that now, more than ever, you must come to court with clean hands, not only that they must be cleaned regularly whilst at court. Knowledge of these details is important to all those attending court and all those considering whether it is safe and appropriate to do so.
“Make regular and frequent use of handwashing facilities, including as soon as you have entered the building.“
The guidance is available here.
“These arrangements are to help us maintain safety of all in our court and tribunal buildings and are in line with Public Health guidance.
You must go through security every time you enter a court or tribunal building. This includes what you can and cannot bring into court or tribunal building.
Look out for our new information posters to guide you when you’re in our buildings.
Do not attend a court or tribunal if you are unwell or self-isolating
You should not come to a court or tribunal building if you have symptoms of coronavirus, or are self-isolating because you live with someone that does.
Food and water in our buildings
Make sure you bring sufficient food and bottled water with you for your visit.
We have closed our water fountains and removed water carafes and glasses from the court rooms. You’ll be able to take bottled water into the hearing room.
Water dispensers and vending machines are still in operation in certain buildings. We will clean these frequently, but you should wash your hands after use.
Keeping safe when queuing and going through security
Here are some important things for you to know and for you to do:
- Keep a 2m gap between people. Please play your part by observing this distance while queuing and on entering the building
- A court security officer or a member of court staff will ask you to enter the building. You should not enter until you are invited to
- You’ll be asked to confirm that you do not have any symptoms of coronavirus – such as a high temperature, fever, a continuous cough or loss of sense of smell or taste
- We’ll be following latest Government and NHS guidelines. If you appear to have symptoms, you will not be invited into the building. You will need to contact the court or tribunal and legal counsel by phone
Our court security officers will carry out bag searches in a way that minimises exposure (the potential risk of individuals sneezing or coughing directly at each other).
They will follow the process steps below:
- The bag search will be a “hands off” check. There will be no physical contact with you and the search will be carried out from at a 2m distance
- Keeping a 2m distance, you will be asked to open your bag and show the security officer its contents by emptying items into a tray and stepping back. If you have items in your bag that you would prefer not to be in public view, let the security officer know before the search begins
- Once you have stepped back, the court security officer will visually check the contents in the tray and your bag
- If the security officer is content you are not carrying any restricted items, the check will be completed. We recently changed our security policy to allow people to also bring hand sanitiser into our buildings – our court security officers will ask you to use it to prove it’s not harmful
- The security officer will then step back 2m and advise you that you may collect your belongings, after you have walked through the archway detector
You will usually walk through an archway detector.
- You need to maintain the 2m distance as you walk through the archway. Remember to empty all loose or metal items into the trays
- If an item is detected by the archway detector, an alert will sound
- The security officer will guide you back and forth through the archway until the item is identified and you pass through the archway without an alert
- If after three attempts, an alert still sounds, the security officer will have to use a hand-held detector to detect the item (see below)
Use of hand-held detectors
If an alert is still sounding after you have made three attempts to walk through the archway detector, court security officers will need to conduct a search with a hand-held detector.
The security officer will have to come within less than a 2m distance of you. To avoid the potential risk of an individual sneezing or coughing, they will follow the process steps below:
- The security officer will explain that they will enter the 2m zone and they will talk you through actions
- The security officer will not touch you
- To avoid the potential risk of exposure (from individuals coughing and/or sneezing directly at each other), you will not be searched facing the court security officer
- You will be asked to face away from the security officer. You must not change the position /direction of where you are facing during the process
- You will be asked to confirm you agree to the search procedure
- If you decline you will be asked to leave the building and you will need to contact HMCTS and legal counsel by phone
This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice.
Social distancing within the building
We’re following the Public Health guidance on social distancing for employers who have people in their offices or onsite.
This means ensuring people can follow Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2m distance from others.
We have put in place arrangements to help you maintain a 2m distance. These will vary for the different buildings depending on layout but might include our staff:
- Advising you to leave empty seats between you and other people in the waiting area. You can help by making sure you do
- Restricting the number of people using the toilets/washrooms at any given point in time. You can help by keeping a 2m distance if there is a queue
- Advising when you can enter or leave courtrooms, to avoid cross-traffic in the doors and to restrict the number of people in court in the public galleries at any point in time
- Reminding you to keep a 2m distance, for instance going in and out of courtrooms
Please follow any local arrangements inside the court building and remember to keep a 2m distance from other people wherever possible.
You must not come to court if you have symptoms of coronavirus, or are self-isolating because you live with someone that does.
The latest Government advice is that if you can, you should wear a face covering if in an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas, for example, on public transport or in some shops.
Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.
Face coverings do not replace social distancing or good hygiene and the range of measures we have introduced in these areas still apply. You should not need to wear a face covering inside our court and tribunal buildings and you will not routinely be provided with one. If there are specific reasons why you need a face covering and you don’t have your own, you can ask a member of staff. Within court buildings court users will be permitted to wear masks if they want to. Decisions about what is to be worn in the courtroom will be made by the judge or magistrates.
Additional cleanliness and hygiene measures for coronavirus
We know that people will be particularly concerned about hygiene at present. The Government advises concentrating on hand cleaning is the most important measure. In addition to our “out of hours” cleaning, we have introduced extra cleaning measures to ensure our court and tribunal buildings are safe to enter and work in during the coronavirus outbreak. These include:
- Introducing more than 150 additional cleaners into court and tribunal buildings that are open to the public, carrying out additional touchpoint cleans throughout the day
- Introducing high visibility “cleaning support” jackets for our daytime cleaners, so they’ll be easy to spot
- Making sure our cleaners pay extra attention to hand-washing basins and facilities
- Additional staff checks throughout the day to make washrooms are clean with supplies of soap and paper towels
- Making sure we respond quickly to complaints about poor hygiene or problems that would prevent users washing their hands
- Introduction of deep cleans within all or parts of buildings if we have a confirmed case of coronavirus, following Government guidelines
- Closing buildings where there are safety concerns
What you can expect
To help reduce the spread of the virus, here is what you can expect:
- We will make soap and hand drying facilities available to you
- Staff will be able to direct you to the nearest bathrooms upon arrival
- Our staff will regularly check the supply of soap and hand drying facilities. throughout the day and will replenish if supplies are running low
- We’ll carry out regularly cleaning of frequently touched surfaces throughout the day
- Every court is cleaned at night, and we also have daytime cleaning in place in all of our buildings that are open to the public, with more regular cleaning
- Our staff are carrying out additional checks through the day. They will close off areas within a building or whole buildings where standards are not as they should be
And here is what you should do:
- Follow NHS advice on handwashing
- Make regular and frequent use of handwashing facilities, including as soon as you have entered the building.
- Avoid touching your face as much as possible
- Tell a member of staff if supplies of soap or hand towels are running low so that we can quickly put things right
Custody suites in courts
In custody suites we are applying government social distancing guidelines consistent with the security of the court and to minimise risk to all detainees and staff working and visiting the custody suite.
Prisoner Escort & Custody Services will only permit two concurrent legal visits. They will ensure that visits are conducted safely and practically within the confines of the custody suite.
We are also working to enhance arrangements so that defence professionals can communicate remotely (by video or phone) with prisoners from within the court.
All prisoners with suspected coronavirus are case-managed by HM Prison and Probation Service and in compliance with Public Health England and Pubic Health Wales guidelines.”