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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Responding to coronavirus in our courts and tribunals

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil, Court and tribunal reform, Crime, Family, General, Tribunals

[English] - [Cymraeg]

Over the past weeks, so many have made heroic efforts to keep the justice system going for the people who need us. Court staff, the judiciary, legal professionals and all those who support court users have worked around the clock to explore and deliver extraordinary changes at great pace. I am proud at how we have united to keep the wheels of our courts and tribunals turning in the face of the unprecedented challenges that coronavirus has brought to our daily and working lives.

Lady justice with cornavirus message: visit GOV.UK/HMCTS for courts and tribunals related coronavirus updates

Right now, I wanted to pause and say thank you for the role you have played in bringing us this far.

Consolidating our courts and tribunals

We need to keep this essential part of our social and constitutional fabric in place – so that we can protect the public from crime and disorder, safeguard vulnerable children, and make sure that other critical decisions that affect liberty, safety and livelihoods can still be made. Both the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have written about the importance of maintaining a functioning justice system, too.

Senior judges, working closely with us, have made decisions to ensure we prioritise the most urgent cases and use our courts and tribunals in the most effective way to support them; as well as continuing less urgent work by other means where we can do so safely and well, recognising that every case matters profoundly to those involved.

All our courts and tribunals hear matters relating to urgent and vitally important issues such as the deprivation of liberty, public safety, and individuals’ rights and welfare. Hearings related to such issues will always be prioritised.

On our buildings, we have consolidated our work into fewer locations for the duration of the crisis. Around 150 buildings will remain open to the public, ensuring that those essential hearings that must be held in person can still go ahead while complying fully with public health advice for all those who involved, including court staff, judges, jurors, witnesses and legal professionals.

By having fewer physical hearings in fewer courts, our cleaning and security contractors will be able to focus their efforts more effectively on ensuring social distancing rules apply and creating a clean environment with handwashing and sanitising available.

We know that people will be particularly concerned about hygiene at present. 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 courts and tribunals that are open to the public, who are carrying out additional cleans of those surfaces most used throughout the day, while supplies of soap and paper towels are also being checked frequently.

We’ve also put in place measures to ensure people can follow Public Health England guidelines in our buildings including, maintaining a 2m distance from others. These will vary in our buildings depending on layout, but might include staff advising you to leave empty seats between you and other people in the waiting area, as well as letting you know when you can safely enter or leave courtrooms, to avoid cross-traffic in the doors and restrict the number of people in court in the public galleries at any point in time.

Video and phone hearings

These arrangements have been developed in close partnership with the judiciary and others in the justice system and have included a rapid expansion of audio and video equipment in courts and tribunals. In just two weeks, there has been an 800% increase in the number of hearings held using such equipment and there are now more fully video hearings each day than those taking place in person. There’s more to do to make sure we have the right arrangements, technology and skills in every bit of the system to do this as well as we can – and we’re continuing to work on upgrading the systems we’re using, and learning rapidly from what’s been done so far.

Much of this work is being supported by colleagues and judges working out of ‘staffed’ buildings, which are closed to the public but are providing essential services. In jurisdictions in which there are still paper-heavy processes, this arrangement is also enabling us to avoid moving large amounts of paper between sites, as well as avoiding concentrating too many people in a small number of buildings.

Further information

Those courts and tribunals not designated as open to the public or ‘staffed’ have been temporarily closed and will not be used for the duration of the crisis.

The nature of the public health emergency means that the numbers and locations of open, staffed and temporarily closed courts may be subject to change, but we have published the most up to date list on our GOV.UK pages, and reflect this information on our courts and tribunals finder.

Open Justice

Media and interested parties continue to be able to attend physical hearings in the ‘open’ courts to uphold the principles of open justice. Where this is not possible, judicial consideration is being given to enable new ways for journalists to join a hearing remotely, or a receive a transcript afterwards. We are continuing to work to develop ways in which we can continue to support media and public access to the work or courts and tribunals.

Working together

Throughout this crisis, we have kept in close communication with legal professional bodies and other user groups to ensure we understand their concerns and can receive their expert advice. We have been hugely grateful at the way all these groups have responded to the crisis and we will continue to engage them closely throughout the next few months.

There will be many questions from practitioners and court users about the arrangements we have put in place, and I want us to ensure that we are doing all we can to address and answer them.

Please use the comments function below to ask us questions and we’ll provide answers to those that focus on the operational running of our courts and tribunals at this time. As things are moving quickly, we’ll keep this open for the next 24 hrs and will consolidate questions if we get lots on the same theme. This will enable us to provide answers that reflect the situation as it is right now, and if this becomes a useful mechanism for you and a manageable exercise for us, we’ll look at running it again in the future.

Meanwhile, thank you again. In testing times, people from all parts of the system are pulling together to keep the justice system working.

[English] - [Cymraeg]

Ymateb y llysoedd a’r tribiwnlysoedd i’r coronafeirws

Dros yr wythnosau diwethaf mae cymaint o bobl wedi cyflawni gwyrthiau i gadw’r system cyfiawnder i fynd ar gyfer y rhai sydd ein hangen.  Mae staff y llys, y farnwriaeth, ymarferwyr y gyfraith a phawb sy’n cefnogi defnyddwyr y llys wedi gweithio rownd y cloc i weld sut y gellir gwneud newidiadau mawr a’u cyflwyno ar gyflymder.  Rwy’n hynod falch o sut yr ydym wedi gweithio gyda’n gilydd i gadw gwaith y llysoedd a’r tribiwnlysoedd i fynd yn wyneb yr heriau digynsail y  mae COVID-19 wedi eu cyflwyno i’n bywydau gwaith a’n bywydau dyddiol.

Fodd bynnag y funud hon, hoffwn ddiolch i chi am eich gwaith yn ein galluogi i ddod cyn belled.

Cyfnerthu ein llysoedd a’n tribiwnlysoedd

Rhaid inni gadw y rhan hanfodol hwn o’n gwneuthuriad cymdeithasol a chyfansoddiadol i fynd – fel ein bod yn gallu gwarchod y cyhoedd rhag trosedd ac anrhefn, diogelu plant bregus a gwneud yn siwr bod penderfyniadau pwysig eraill sy’n effeithio ar ryddid, diogelwch a bywoliaeth yn cael eu gwneud.  Mae’r Arglwydd Ganghellor a’r Arglwydd Brif Ustus ill dau wedi ysgrifennu am bwysigrwydd cynnal y system gyfiawnder.

Mae uwch farnwyr sy’n gweithio’n agos efo ni, wedi gwneud penderfyniadau i sichrau ein bod yn blaenoriaethu’r achosion sydd â mwyaf o frys ac i ddefnyddio ein llysoedd a’n tribiwnlysoedd yn y ffordd mwyaf effeithiol i’w cefnogi nhw; ynghyd â pharhau gyda gwaith sydd gyda llai o frys trwy ddulliau eraill os gallwn wneud hynny yn ddiogel a da, gan gofio bod pob achos o bwys mawr i’r rhai sy’n gysylltiedig â hwy.

Mae ein llysoedd a’n tribiwnlysoedd yn gwrando ar faterion brys a phwysig megis amddifadu rhywun o’u rhyddid, diogelwch y cyhoedd a hawliau a lles unigolion.  Bydd gwrandawiadau sy’n ymwneud â materion o’r fath wastad yn cael blaenoriaeth. related to such issues will always be prioritised.

Yn ein hadeiladau rydym wedi symud ein gwaith i lai o leoliadau tra bydd yr argyfwng yn parhau.  Bydd oddeutu 150 o adeiladau yn aros ar agor i’r cyhoedd gan sicrhau bod y gwrandawiadau hanfodol hynny lle mae angen i’r person fod yn bresennol yn gorfforol, yn gallu cael eu cynnal tra’n cydymffurfio gyda chyngor iechyd cyhoeddus ar gyfer pawb sy’n gysylltiedig, gan gynnwys staff y llys, barnwyr, rheithwyr, tystion ac ymarferwyr y gyfraith.

Trwy gael llai o wrandawiadau mewn llysoedd lle mae angen i bobl fod yn bresennol yn gorfforol, mae ein contractwyr glanhau a diogelwch yn gallu canolbwyntio eu hymdrechion yn fwy effeithiol i sichrau ein bod yn gallu cadw at y rheolau cadw pellter cymdeithasol a chreu amgylchfyd glân lle mae modd golchi dwylo a’u di-heintio.

Rydym yn gwybod bod pobl yn poeni am lanweithdra ar hyn o bryd.  Yn ogystal â’r glanhau sy’n cael ei wneud ar ôl oriau gwaith, rydym wedi cyflwyno mesurau glanhau ychwanegol i sichrau bod ein llysoedd a’n tribiwnlysoedd yn ddiogel i ddod i mewn iddynt ac i weithio ynddynt yn ystod lledaeniad y coronafeirws.  Mae hyn yn cynnwys cyflwyno mwy na 150 o lanhawyr ychwanegol i lysoedd a thribiwnlysoedd sy’n agored i’r cyhoedd, sy’n glanhau y llefydd hynny sy’n cael eu cyffwrdd yn aml yn ystod y diwrnod tra’u  bod yn cadw golwg cyson ar y  cyflenwad o sebon a thoweli papur.

Rydym hefyd wedi rhoi mesurau mewn lle i sichrau bod pobl yn gallu cadw at ganllawiau Iechyd Cyhoeddus Lloegr yn ein hadeiladau, gan gynnwys cadw pellter o 2 fetr oddi wrth eraill.  Bydd hyn yn amrywio yn ein llysoedd yn dibynnu ar eu dyluniad ond fe all olygu bod staff yn gofyn i chi gadw seddi gwag rhyngoch chi â phobl eraill mewn mannau aros, yn ogystal â rhoi gwybod i chi pa bryd y gallwch fynd i mewn neu allan o’r ystafell llys yn ddiogel gan osgoi pobl eraill wrth y drws a chyfyngu ar faint o bobl sydd yn y llys neu’r oriel gyhoeddus ar unrhyw amser.

Gwrandawiadau teleffon a fideo

Cafodd y trefniadau hyn eu datblygu trwy weithio’n agos gyda’r farnwriaeth ac eraill yn y system cyfiawnder gan gyflymu’n sylweddol yr offer clywedol a fideo yn ein llysoedd a’n tribiwnlysoedd.  Mewn dim ond pythefnos mae cynnydd o 800% yn y nifer o wrandawiadau a gynhelir yn defnyddio’r offer hyn a bellach mae mwy o wrandawiadau fideo pob dydd nac sydd o rai lle mae pobl yn bresennol yn gorfforol.  Mae mwy eto i’w wneud i sicrhau bod y trefniadau, y dechnoleg a’r sgiliau iawn gennym ym mhob rhan o’r system i wneud hyn cystal ag y gallwn – ac rydym yn parhau i weithio i uwchraddio’r systemau a ddefnyddir gennym gan ddysgu’n gyflym o’r hyn a wnaed cyn belled.

Mae lot o’r gwaith hwn yn cael ei gefnogi gan gydweithwyr a barnwyr sy’n darparu gwasanaethau hanfodol ac yn  gweithio o lysoedd sydd ddim yn agored i’r cyhoedd.  Yn yr awdurdodaethau hynny  lle mae’r prosesau yn dal i olygu defnyddio lot o bapur, mae’r trefniant hwn yn ein galluogi i beidio â symud lot o bapur o un safle i’r llall, gan hefyd osgoi cael gormod o bobl mewn nifer llai o adeiladau.

Gwybodaeth bellach

Mae’r llysoedd a’r tribiwnlysoedd hynny nad ydynt wedi eu nodi fel rhai sydd ar agor i’r cyhoedd neu efo staff yn gweithio ynddynt wedi cael eu cau dros dro ac ni chânt eu defnyddio yn ystod parhad yr argyfwng hwn.

Mae natur yr argyfwng iechyd cyhoeddus hwn yn golygu y gall niferoedd a lleoliad y llysoedd sy’n agored, gyda staff ynddynt neu wedi cau dros dro,  newid ond rydym wedi cyhoeddi’r rhestr mwyaf diweddar ar ein tudalennau GOV.UK ac a welir ar ein gwasanaeth Dod o hyd i’r llys neu dribiwnlys cywir. courts and tribunals finder.

Cyfiawnder agored

Mae’r cyfryngau a phartion sydd gyda diddordeb yn dal i allu mynychu gwrandawiadau lle mae pobl yn eu mynychu’n gorfforol yn y llysoedd hynny sydd ‘ar agor’, fel y gellir cadw at yr egwyddorion o gyfiawnder agored. Pan nad yw hyn yn bosibl, bydd barnwyr yn ystyried ffyrdd newydd o alluogi newyddiadurwyr i ymuno gyda gwrandawiad o bell, neu i gael trawsgrifiad honno ar ôl y gwrandawiad.  Rydym yn parhau i weithio i ddatblygu ffyrdd lle gallwn ddal i gefnogi’r cyfryngau a’r cyhoedd i gael mynediad i waith y llysoedd a’r tribiwnlysoedd.

Gweithio gyda’n gilydd

Twy gydol yr argyfwng hwn rydym wedi cadw cysylltiad agos gyda chyrff cyfreithiol proffesiynol a grwpiau eraill i sicrhau ein bod yn deall eu pryderon ac yn gallu cael eu barn arbenigol.  Rydym yn hynod ddiolchgar am y ffordd y mae’r grwpiau hyn wedi ymateb i’r argyfwng a byddwn yn parhau i gadw cysylltiad agos efo nhw dros y misoedd nesaf.

Fe fydd nifer o gwestiynau gan ymarferwyr a defnyddwyr y llys am y trefniadau yr ydym wedi eu rhoi mewn lle, a hoffwn ein bod yn gwneud yn siwr ein bod yn gwneud popeth o fewn ein gallu i’w hateb.

Defnyddiwch y cyfleuster gadael sylwadau isod i ofyn cwestiwn a byddwn yn ymateb i’r rhai hynny sy’n canolbwyntio ar weithrediad ein llysoedd a’n tribiwnlysoedd yn ystod y cyfnod hwn.  Gan fod pethau’n symud yn gyflym fe wnawn adael hwn yn agored am y 24 awr nesaf a byddwn yn rhoi un ateb i’r cwestiynau hynny sydd ar yr un thema. Bydd hyn yn ein galluogi i roi atebion sy’n adlewyrchu’r sefyllfa fel y mae ar hyn o bryd, ac os bydd hyn yn ffordd ddefnyddiol i chi ac yn un y gallwn ei reoli heb lawer o ffwdan, edrychwn at wneud yr un peth eto yn y dyfodol agos.

Yn y cyfamser, diolch i chi eto.  Mewn cyfnod heriol, mae pobl o bob rhan o’r system yn gweithio gyda’i gilydd i gadw cyfiawnder i fynd.

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  1. Comment by M posted on

    If your trying to keep everyone safe and only conduct essential work, why are your ushers still going into work even though all they are doing is unnecessary tasks and waiting around?
    I would not call that essential work and is putting people at risk for no reason.

    • Replies to M>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Thanks for raising this, M.

      Ushers are an essential point of contact for all court users involved in hearings and our ushers are directly contributing to the smooth flow of court work, ensuring that access to justice is maintained during this unprecedented public health emergency.

      As Susan has said in her blog, she is proud of the heroic efforts of everyone working in the justice system to deliver extraordinary changes at great pace. Our ushers are making a real difference at this difficult time, and it’s not going unnoticed by those we serve and work alongside as we continue to provide essential services, including to some of the most vulnerable in society, who now more than ever need the rule of law and the justice system to protect them.

      We are following Public Health England advice to ensure the safety of our staff, the judiciary, legal professionals and all court users. For example, we are ensuring social distancing guidance is applied during hearings and we are also providing enhanced cleaning in those buildings which remain open to ensure they are as safe and secure as possible.

      I hope that provides you with some reassurance.

  2. Comment by Mena Ruparel posted on

    It is useful to have a list of courts that will remain open during the crisis. However, it would also be helpful for a guide on which open court is dealing with the enquiries, filing and hearings for all the closed courts.

    • Replies to Mena Ruparel>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Hi Mena,

      Thanks for asking us this question. We know lots of people are keen that we include as much information as possible on our open, staffed and suspended court lists.

      The first thing to say is that the work being undertaken in each of our open and staffed sites is under constant review so we can respond to changing priorities and resources. This means the site undertaking work of a suspended site may vary and if any court users are immediately impacted local managers will take steps to notify affected users.

      The contact details of the applicable open or staffed sites can be found across a mix of Court & Tribunal Finder and telephone answering services for the suspended site. The Court Tracker List on GOV.UK will also be populated next week with relevant telephone numbers, which for the suspended sites will include details for the relevant open court(s) that is temporarily overseeing its cases. Posters have already been placed at staffed and suspended sites, and provide a contact point for any emergency applications.

      Parties with ongoing cases at the suspended site have already been contacted by HMCTS about new arrangements relevant to them.

      I hope this answer is helpful.

  3. Comment by Scott Bowen posted on

    I'm a Solicitor -Advocate in South Wales. The Crown court is progressing matters using skype and these are working well (I have undertaken sentencing and PTPH Hearigns). Why can't the Magistrates remand courts sit in the Crown court working with CPS and Defence via skype also? papers are already served electronically and instructions could be taken over the telephone.

    • Replies to Scott Bowen>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Hello Scott. Thanks for getting in touch. We’re currently implementing a ‘cloud video platform’ (CVP) which is to be rolled out to facilitate video hearings in both the Crown and magistrates’ courts. CVP is accessible to all users and can be used to share documents relating to the case.

      The decision as to how the hearing is conducted is a matter for the judge or magistrates, but subject to them being satisfied that the interest of justice can be met, detainees will be able to have their remand hearing take place in the custody suite via CVP. Currently, it’s our intention that the judge or bench, and the legal advisor or court associate, will be in the courtroom, while all other participants will appear remotely using their own electronic devices.

      Client consultations in the custody suite will be supported by audio calls. Further information on how we’ll use telephone and video technology during the outbreak can be found on our GOV.UK guidance pages.

      Hope that helps.

  4. Comment by Emma posted on

    What's happening with the divorce units? Are divorces still being processed?

    • Replies to Emma>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Thanks for your question, Emma.

      As you may know, our online divorce service enables people to complete the whole process online, including payment and uploading supporting evidence. This means that we can ensure divorces continue to be progressed during this exceptional period, enabling access remotely by staff currently working from home.

      We’re trying to prioritise urgent cases in the family courts, as detailed in our daily operational summaries, which, for divorce, includes urgent applications and decrees absolute. We will endeavour to process other, non-urgent divorce cases however during this period our primary focus is on those which are urgent. Individuals who feel a case should be treated as urgent should contact the Divorce Contact Centre.

      I hope that helps.

  5. Comment by Liz posted on

    I've heard provisional decisions, based on a paper hearing, will/are being made regarding Housing Benefit appeals (and other Social Security tribunals presumably). Can you confirm if this is the case?

  6. Comment by S Jackson posted on

    Thank you for all your efforts.

    Are you able to confirm that County Courts will send out correspondence and documentation by email in order that they are received by firms whilst their offices are closed. Please could you confirm the process for notifying the court that this is required. Is an email sufficient?

    • Replies to S Jackson>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Thanks for your kind words and question.

      Due to limited staff resource available and the need to prioritise the most urgent tasks, we’re unable to ensure that all civil orders / documents for a particular case - or to a particular firm - are served by email.

      However, if there is an urgent need for a document or order, you should contact the court who are dealing with your case to make alternative arrangements for you to receive that order / document. We are working to identify, risk control and manage additional work by electronic means and so this guidance will be kept under review.

      I hope that clarifies the current position.

  7. Comment by The Law Society posted on

    How are HMCTS ensuring that those with cases already listed know if they are being adjourned, going ahead using remote technology, or going ahead as a live hearing (and in the latter case, where the hearing will take place)?

    • Replies to The Law Society>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Hi, thanks for your question.

      Listing is a judicial function and local teams have worked with judges to support their decisions about which hearings should be held remotely, adjourned or relocated. We’ll contact parties directly to notify them of any new arrangements, including if they will be using remote technology.
      We’ll contact those parties whose hearings were scheduled to happen first, and work our way through the list as quickly as possible. We’re asking for patience while we do this.

      We’ve also published guidance on GOV.UK for court users about hearing arrangements during the coronavirus outbreak.

      I hope that answers your query and thanks for getting in touch.

  8. Comment by Florence Spencer posted on

    What happens to defendants on bail who have had their sentencing hearing adjourned indefinitely. Will the Court take into account as mitigation the delay period between trial and sentencing.

    • Replies to Florence Spencer>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Hi Florence, I’m afraid that’s not a question we’re able to answer. Decisions on sentencing are taken by our independent judiciary in accordance with guidance issued by the Sentencing Council.

  9. Comment by Ioannis Violaris posted on

    How long are Custody trials going to be adjourned and is it correct that 8 days between adjournments is allowed to go on indefinitely?

    • Replies to Ioannis Violaris>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Thanks for the question, Ioannis.

      Summary trials in the magistrates’ courts, where the defendant is remanded in custody, are being prioritised. A magistrates’ court cannot initially remand an unconvicted person in custody for more than eight clear days. This period increases to a maximum of 28 days on a second or subsequent hearing. There is an overall custody time limit in the magistrates’ courts of 56 days. The prosecution can ask the court to extend the custody time limit but they must demonstrate a good reason to do so.

      Different rules and custody time limits apply to people remanded in custody to the Crown Court, where jury trials are currently not taking place.

      I hope that clarifies the position for you.

  10. Comment by Peter Bedingfield posted on

    Why when attending Court, are Court Staff and Solicitors having to deal with large numbers of members of the public still attending?
    I understand they are public buildings and there is open justice however in these exceptional times allowing the public to attend without any guidance or restriction is not acceptable. It prevents any social distancing being possible outside of the Court rooms and adds to the risk of all the Court users who are there working. Yesterday relatives of people in custody who have shown signs of having the virus were attending and waiting in the area outside the Court.

    • Replies to Peter Bedingfield>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Peter, thanks for getting in touch.

      Our duty is to ensure the safety and security of all those entering and using our buildings where it remains necessary for them to do so. We’ve been communicating guidance on keeping courts and tribunals safe, secure and clean as well as changes to court hearings during the coronavirus outbreak for all court users, based on Public Health England’s advice. Our guidance is clear that individuals should not come to a court or tribunal building if they have symptoms of coronavirus, or are self-isolating because they live with someone that does.

      It also stresses the need to keep a two metre gap between anybody else in the court building, including while queuing and on entering the building. To assist this, court security officers or a member of court staff will be inviting people to enter the building, making sure social distancing is observed. Court users are also being asked to confirm that they do not have any symptoms of coronavirus – such as a high temperature, fever or a continuous cough. If anyone appears to have symptoms, they will not be invited into the building and are instructed to contact the court or tribunal and legal counsel by phone. We’ve changed our security arrangements so that our security officers can observe appropriate distances during security checks.

      We’ve ensured that it’s possible to have two-metre separation in public areas. This will vary according to individual buildings but an example might be that seating in waiting areas might be taped off in some courts. Judges have been encouraged to show flexibility in courtrooms.

      Our court buildings are cleaned out of hours to BSI standards, and we have introduced additional cleaning measures through the day as a precaution. Where we have any concerns we will close buildings.

      If you have concerns about a specific court or other court users, please raise them with our operational staff. They will take every step they can to deal with any issues as a matter of priority.

  11. Comment by The Law Society posted on

    How are HMCTS getting feedback on what works and what needs changing?

    • Replies to The Law Society>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Thanks for that very important question.

      Throughout the pandemic, we’ve stepped up our regular engagement and are listening and responding to feedback from litigants, lawyers and the advice sector, in various ways.

      We’ve been meeting daily or twice weekly with representatives of the legal profession at meetings organised by the Ministry of Justice for all its agencies. Meetings are held by jurisdiction and include representatives of the Law Society, Bar Council, Criminal Bar Association, Legal Services Committee, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and other jurisdiction-specific bodies. This coordinated approach means we can discuss policy and operational issues, areas of concern and interest, and take actions to quickly resolve them.

      Within HMCTS, we’re continuing our regular monthly meetings with legal professional associations, who feed back to us on behalf of their members, as well as responding to the individual queries via email outside of these meetings.

      We’ve also surveyed the advice sector about their immediate top priorities and how HMCTS can assist, which has given us an understanding of what’s working and where we might need to make changes. We’re also receiving updates regularly through our public engagement group contacts, including those who contact us on Twitter, and working with the appropriate HMCTS teams, where changes are required.

      Organisations focussing on litigants in person have been sent detailed guidance to give them oversight of the latest position and an opportunity to provide feedback

      I trust that provides you with some reassurance.

  12. Comment by Junior Lawyers Division posted on

    We were told by a local court that they were unable to review a paper file as they were waiting for health and safety to revert to them on how to proceed. Can we now be reassured that the appropriate health and safety measures are in place enabling staff to review physical files and papers?

    • Replies to Junior Lawyers Division>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Thank you for the question and details of your recent experience with a local court.

      Public Health England (PHE) has published guidance on handling papers and HMCTS guidance on keeping court and tribunal buildings safe, secure and clean is on GOV.UK, both of which we have also shared widely with all our staff.

      The PHE guidance includes the advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low. The risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a physical package is also very low. When handling post or packages, our staff have been advised that they should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working; no additional precautions are needed.

      If you would like to provide the details of your local court so that we can communicate directly with them to ensure they are aware of the guidance available, please contact us at:

  13. Comment by Junior Lawyers Division posted on

    Will there be a relaxation in the rules with regards to filing original marriage certificates with a Divorce Petition? From our experience, we have been told that photocopies are unacceptable. The position with filing a Petition through the online portal does not overcome this problem as we have been told that where the Respondent is represented, the Petition will not be dealt with via the Portal and that it is suspended to dealing with filings of those nature. Is the suspension of the Portal temporary? With this in mind, please confirm how marriage certificates should be filed in the knowledge that employees cannot attend offices to obtain originals?

    • Replies to Junior Lawyers Division>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Thank you for this question.
      As you may know, our online divorce service enables people to complete the whole process online, including payment and uploading supporting evidence including a marriage certificate where the respondent is unrepresented. This means that we can ensure divorces continue to be progressed during this exceptional period, enabling access remotely by staff currently working from home.
      If the respondent is represented then you will not currently be able to use the online service and will need to file your divorce petition using the paper route. This is while we prioritise making further improvements to the online process for represented respondents over the coming months. If you are filing a paper divorce petition and are unable to obtain the original marriage certificate, then a photocopy of this document will be accepted at this time. This is accepted on the basis that you undertake to file the original marriage certificate as soon as possible, or at least prior to decree nisi.
      We’re trying to prioritise urgent cases in the family courts, as detailed in our operational summaries, which, for divorce, includes urgent applications and decrees absolute. We will endeavour to process other, non-urgent divorce cases however during this period our primary focus is on those which are urgent. Individuals who feel a case should be treated as urgent should contact the Divorce Contact Centre.
      We hope this answer is helpful.

  14. Comment by Junior Lawyers Division posted on

    It is our experience that the smaller courts are struggling to keep up with demand for telephone hearings, with a particular emphasis on financial proceedings which continue to be adjourned. To that end, what is the intention in relation to the expansion and implementation of IT systems at the smaller Courts? Is it the view of HMCTS that FDR hearings should be proceeding by telephone/video?

    • Replies to Junior Lawyers Division>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

      Thanks for your question.

      Part of our response to the pandemic is increasing the availability of BT MeetMe, a teleconferencing service, so that more hearings can take place over the phone. BT MeetMe is already in use in the courts, and we have increased the number of accounts from 995 to 3391 since March, which is enough to cover every courtroom and legal chambers in England and Wales.

      As part of the effort to ensure that cases continue to be heard, HMCTS in partnership with the judiciary has prioritised cases within the family division, into work that must be done, work that will be done, and work that the court will do its best to accommodate. FDR hearings, along with other divorce matters, fall into the latter category, and so are not being prioritised at the moment. This is in order that the most urgent cases are heard as quickly as possible, and whilst significant volumes of financial hearings are still taking place it does mean that sometimes those cases need to be adjourned.

      With regards to the suitability of FDR hearings to be heard remotely, please refer to the latest update from the judiciary about remote access in the family court. The President of the Family Division recently asked for a rapid review into the use of remote hearings in the family court, which will help the judiciary with their decisions on what hearings are appropriate for remote hearings.

      I hope that’s useful.