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

Keeping it fresh – ventilation in courts and tribunals

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: COVID-19

Ventilation is not something people usually pay much attention to, but since the pandemic we're all more aware of the air we breathe and how clean it is. Now, how we keep air fresh in courts and tribunals is on everybody’s mind. It’s been my and my team’s job to make sure our systems do that effectively and reliably.

Keeping it clean

We know that virus particles can be transmitted in water droplets circulated in the air, so the air in a room needs to change and stay as clean and fresh as possible.

There are two options to keep fresh air circulating:

  • opening all the windows
  • using air handling systems – which is what’s used in most offices

An air handling system is basically a big fan in a box that blows in and extracts air through a duct system. To meet building regulations, every occupiable room must have a window or an air handling system.

All our systems are designed to building regulations or above and that’s part of our court design guide.

Public entrance to the Crown Court with large windows

Ventilation as mitigation

Good ventilation is part of the suite of safety measures such as screens, masks and cleaning, that we have at our sites. It’s part of the site-based risk assessment so courts and tribunals will flag any concerns with air quality when they do their weekly review.

As well as this, we work with our contractors to do weekly operational checks of the systems to make sure they’re working properly. This is above any statutory or contracted obligation.  So we know that the system is in place, it’s working and it’s doing its job.

Any room that does not have a good means of ventilation is not in use. We’ve also taken the extra precaution of removing desk fans because they can blow particles from one person to the next, so if someone’s asymptomatic and in the building, a desk fan could transmit the virus across the room.

As with all our safety measures and approach to reducing the risk of COVID transmission in courts, we’ve worked with Public Health England, the Health and Safety Executive and professional bodies.

It’s working well

As part of our assurance that our mitigations are working, we're installing CO2 monitors. CO2 will build up if the air is not being refreshed, so this is an indication that air quality has decreased.

The monitors are most effective in smaller rooms with high occupancy – jury rooms, cells and other small rooms – and these are the rooms of most concern in terms of increasing the possibility of transmission.

We’ve installed around 400 CO2 monitors to date and had no alarms. That’s a really good indication that our mitigations are working and our ventilation systems are doing their job well.

Changing perceptions

You can’t see or feel an air-handling system, so it’s hard to demonstrate when it’s working well. In the pandemic, people were naturally worried about the air they were breathing, so the biggest challenge for us wasn’t technical, it was the perception that our buildings weren’t well ventilated.

We’re doing everything to make them safe, and ventilation has been key to that. And that’s thanks to the tireless hard work of the HMCTS technical team and health and safety team. It's also thanks to the facilities management team, who checked the systems and implement any changes, as well as our contractors who do the weekly checks.

I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved – but we will not stop checking our approach, testing the systems, and making sure the air we’re all breathing in the courts is fresh and clean.


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  1. Comment by Louise Dutton posted on

    This is all very well, but in Weymouth Court there are two retiring rooms with two windows on the same side, and a door on the opposite side. We have been told (as magistrates) that we are not allowed to prop the door open to allow more airflow through as this contravenes fire regulations. There is no air circulation system. The court building was, I believe, built in the 1970s and is certainly not fit for purpose any more. A few weeks ago we had a wheelchair user, who was fully expecting to go to prison having breached her SSO, but we couldn't deal with it because Weymouth Court has steps leading to the cells and there was no way she could get down them. We had to adjourn her case to Salisbury, incurring huge travelling costs, and time. It seems ridiculous that the nearest accessible court is 50 miles away. It's about time a bit of money was invested in the crumbling criminal justice system.

    • Replies to Louise Dutton>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications posted on

      Hi Louise, thanks for your comment and we’re sorry to hear this. We’ve passed on your feedback and contacted you via email to find out more. We hope this helps.

  2. Comment by Steve posted on

    If a banned desk fan blows droplets around a room, doesn’t the breeze coming in a window do the same?

    Masks effectiveness or otherwise is a topic of some debate, but colleagues must be respectful that not everyone can wear one, some are unable to for health reasons that may not be visible.

    • Replies to Steve>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications posted on

      Hi Steve, thanks for your comment. Our guidance on ventilation, including use of desk fans, follows Public Health England advice on reducing the spread of COVID-19. We continue to advise all users who are not exempt wear masks in our buildings. We can also provide lanyards for those who are exempt.

  3. Comment by R Cooper posted on

    Can you please explain how HMCTS is monitoring the effectiveness of air handling systems within the Courts and Tribunals estate. What is the frequency of the checks in each of the buildings used by HMCTS? How in practice does HMCTS identify whether airborne SARS CV-19 virus particles are present in the air handling system and if so how are they removed?
    Filters seem to be used in various public locations but I have not seen evidence of them being used in the Courts/Tribunals estate.

    • Replies to R Cooper>

      Comment by HMCTS Communications posted on

      Hi there, thank you for you comment. Air handling systems are visually checked, in all our buildings, weekly and systems are serviced quarterly.

      We hope this helps.

  4. Comment by Suzanna Jacoby posted on

    This is excellent and very reassuring. Thank you,