On 1 July 2020, Robert Buckland (the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice) published a written statement to Parliament setting out progress being made to recover the operations of courts and tribunals in response to the pandemic. At the same time, HMCTS published “COVID-19: Update on recovery in courts and tribunals” and the Judiciary published a news release on recovery.
In his written statement, the Lord Chancellor recognised the work of HMCTS in responding effectively to the immediate crisis. Now, HMCTS is focused on recovering its operation to increase courts and tribunal capacity to deal both with normal workloads across jurisdictions and outstanding cases. The Lord Chancellor noted the Prime Minister’s announcement on 30 June 2020 that HMCTS would be receiving £142 million of additional capital funding this year to speed up technological improvements and modernise courtrooms.
Key points on the recovery plan include:
- increasing physical capacity to enable more cases to be heard. All courts and tribunal buildings are being reopened in line with wider advice on social distancing and public safety. Nearly all locations will become operational throughout July, and a range of physical modifications are being made, such as the installation of screens where appropriate;
- exploring options to stagger and extend the operating hours of courts and tribunals, including starting hearings at different times of day and weekend sittings, to manage the flow of people through the buildings and enable more cases to be heard safely. HMCTS is also actively locating other buildings from across England and Wales to use as court and tribunal locations or to support the expansion of existing sites, as well as identifying other venues to use on a temporary basis;
- working to expand access to audio and video technology to support more and new types of hearings, following the significant increase in the use of such equipment over the last three months. HMCTS will be rolling out further hardware to improve the quality of video hearings, as well as finding new, increasingly efficient ways of organising video lists; and
- introducing a range of measures to make best use of judicial time, support court and tribunal staff and users and ensure the justice system is there for those that need it. This includes supporting judges to list in ways that make full use of the space that can be safely used and supporting Alternative Dispute Resolution for cases where appropriate.
The Lord Chancellor said that some changes will be time-limited and will stop with the end of the pandemic, while others may be valuable in the longer term. Feedback from judges, staff, practitioners and users will be collected to improve functioning in the short term and to support continuous improvement. To read the Lord Chancellor’s written statement in full, click here. To access the HMCTS guidance, click here. To read the Judiciary’s news release, click here.