Coronavirus (COVID-19): courts and tribunals planning and preparation

This page provides advice and guidance for all court and tribunal users during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and will be updated when new advice is available.

HMCTS response to coronavirus outbreak

During this unprecedented public health emergency, we’re working hard to keep our justice system functioning. We’re focusing on priority cases, changing working practices and introducing new procedures to minimise risks to the judiciary, staff and all those who use our courts and tribunals.

Please see our operational summary on courts and tribunals during the coronavirus outbreak to get the latest information about what is happening across HMCTS. Any changes to individual hearings will be communicated directly to those affected, usually by email and/or phone.

We have published detailed information on our priorities during the coronavirus outbreak.

Priority courts during coronavirus outbreak

A network of priority courts will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic to make sure the justice system continues to operate effectively. The work of courts and tribunals will be consolidated into fewer buildings, maintaining the safety of all in the courts and in line with public health advice.

These temporary changes, designed in partnership between HMCTS and the judiciary will help maintain a core justice system focused on the most essential cases.

Since 30 March 2020, we have had priority court and tribunal buildings open for essential face-to-face hearings. Our court and tribunal buildings are divided as follows:

  • open courts – these buildings are open to the public for essential face-to-face hearings
  • staffed courts – staff and judges will work from these buildings, but they will not be open to the public
  • suspended courts – these courts will be temporarily closed

Check if the court or tribunal you plan to visit is open using the tracker on the link below:

Court and tribunal tracker page and list

Search our court and tribunal venues and their contact details.

Telephone and video hearings during coronavirus outbreak

We’re increasing use of telephone, video and other technology to continue as many hearings as possible remotely. We will make best possible use of the equipment currently available and are working nonstop to update and add to that. Some hearings, the most obvious being jury trials, cannot be conducted remotely.

Read our new guidance on how HMCTS will use telephone and video technology during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Coming to court or tribunal during the coronavirus outbreak

All court and tribunal users are reminded you should read the latest NHS information about Coronavirus (COVID19).

Priority courts will remain open for face to face hearings, making sure that judges, legal professionals, staff and all those attending hearings can maintain effective social distancing.

Media and members of the public will be also able to attend priority court hearings in person if safe to do so, unless self-isolating based on government and NHS advice, or have heard from us.

If you are asked to attend court or tribunal to participate in legal proceedings – such as providing evidence as a witness or a defendant – then this counts as an essential reason for travel. Have your hearing letter with you as proof your journey is essential. And remember to bring any other papers you need for your hearing with you too.

If you are due to attend a court or tribunal for a hearing you will be contacted by email and/or phone. Read our guidance on changes to court and tribunal hearings for more information. Please do not attend unless you have heard from us.

There is separate advice about:

Assessing and managing coronavirus risk

We have comprehensively assessed risk to staff and users and are ensuring the safety of anyone who comes in to our buildings by applying published court and tribunal coronavirus safety controls. These have been endorsed by Public Health England and Public Health Wales.

A process for checking compliance at each site is in place, with controls reviewed and monitored at each court and tribunal building. We encourage all court users to raise any issues you experience within our buildings with local managers.

As we increase the work we do, we will carefully consider whether additional or different guidance or controls are required to manage the change in any risks.

We have developed a specific process for checking that Crown courts are ready to start jury trials. This process has also been endorsed by Public Health England and Public Health Wales.

Risks within general office locations, where social distancing and other safety measures are in place, will continue to be assessed and in line with government guidance for ‘working safely in offices and contact centres’. An assessment tool provides court and tribunal colleagues with approved standards to assess individual building safety for all users.

Our organisational risk assessment enables us to review our buildings safety regularly - allowing us to identify, mitigate and take action wherever necessary.

These indicators will guide local assessments of all our buildings. It will help us to identify and act quickly on any areas of concern. And if we cannot resolve any major issues swiftly, we will temporarily close the building until we are satisfied that it is safe to re-open.

Staff in courts and tribunal buildings are working hard to ensure the safety of those who use them and to prepare for the time when more will be open to the public. Decisions about the use of specific properties for particular types of hearings, such as criminal jury trials, will be made according to agreed procedures. But here’s a film showing the work going on at Wood Green Crown Court to prepare for a return to holding jury trials, if agreed, at some point in the future in a safe and secure way.

Wood Green Crown Court Video

Jury trials

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon announced that new jury trials would start in a few courts week commencing 18 May 2020. This followed discussions with the Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP.

Trials will take place under special arrangements to maintain the safety of all participants, including jurors. These measures include supporting social distancing and appropriate cleaning standards and have the express support and backing of Public Health England and Public Health Wales.

Our court and tribunal tracker list can be used to find out which Crown Courts have been assessed as currently suitable to hold jury trials.

Special arrangements in place for jury trials

Arrangements to allow appropriate social distancing to be maintained at all times include but are not limited to:

  • providing a second courtroom linked by closed circuit TV, to enable the media and others to watch proceedings
  • a separate courtroom for jury deliberations
  • entrances and exits are carefully supervised
  • increased building and touchpoint cleaning will take place

Special arrangements have been put in place to ensure physical access to jury trials for the media and members of the public.

If you are attending a jury trial under these new arrangements see our user guide on what we have put in place and what we expect of you: Jury trials checklist (PDF, 465KB, 4 pages)

Public safety a top priority

The decision to allow new jury trials to start again follows a rigorous assessment of potential Crown court locations overseen by a working group chaired by Mr Justice Edis and includes representatives of the legal profession and criminal justice partners such as the police and Crown Prosecution Service.

Each Crown court has had to meet clear standards and criteria approved by public health bodies. Officials from Public Health England and Public Health Wales have attended physical inspections of the Old Bailey and Cardiff Crown Court respectively to ensure the appropriate application of these criteria.

Any further Crown court selected to hold jury trials in the future will need to meet these standards.

Jury trials judicial working group

The group has played a key role in assessing and recommending that a small number court locations were capable holding new jury trials safely. The group is chaired by Mr Justice Edis and includes representatives from the Law Society, Bar Council, Criminal Bar Association, HMCTS, Crown Prosecution Service, Prisoner Escort and Custody Service, Ministry of Justice, HM Prisons and Probation Service, National Probation Service, National Police Chiefs Council, Legal Aid Agency, Public Health England and Public Health Wales.

The working group will continue to meet to consider the work of the seven courts chosen to hold new jury trials, and assess further courts around the country so that the number of cases heard can be gradually increased when safe to do so.

Message from the Chair of the Jury Trials Working Group on resumption of jury trials: 22 May 2020

Jury service

Jury service is an important civic duty and an essential part of the criminal justice system. Any person who plays a part in a criminal trial – including victims, witnesses, jurors, and legal professionals – is making a huge contribution to society that is rightly recognised as an essential reason to travel. Have your juror summons letter with you as proof your journey is essential.

If you have received a jury summons

If you receive, or have already received a jury summons for a future date, please keep planning to attend court but do not attend court unless you have been contacted by a jury officer. They will contact you to confirm the days and time you need to attend during your service. At that stage, if following government advice you need to self-isolate, you will not be expected to start your jury service. You will need to contact the court to let us know if there’s another reason why you cannot attend. If you are not needed for jury service, the court will let you know.

Due to coronavirus we have closed our water fountains and cafes. Make sure you bring sufficient food and bottled water (not glass) with you for the day. Note that you may be required to taste test on entry to the building. You can claim towards the cost of your food and drink.

If you need to speak to someone about your personal circumstances, please contact the Jury Central Summoning Bureau on 0300 456 1024. You can also see our general guidance on jury service.

Keeping up to date with the impact of coronavirus on courts and tribunals

We will communicate changes to the operational running of the courts and tribunals through the following channels:

Read the latest information about the government’s coronavirus response and plans.

Please see the latest advice and guidance from the judiciary in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.

Published 13 March 2020
Last updated 5 August 2020 + show all updates
  1. Providing evidence as a witness during the coronavirus outbreak updated in Welsh.

  2. Providing evidence as a witness during the coronavirus outbreak document updated.

  3. Updated 'Additional safety guidance for regular court users' document

  4. Updated from jury trials working group 22 May 2020

  5. Jury trails and safety information updated.

  6. Jury service info updated.

  7. Jury trials judicial working group added

  8. Jury service section updated.

  9. Coming to court section amended

  10. Updated with link to new guidance on keeping court and tribunal buildings safe, secure and clean.

  11. Added priority courts and tribunals information.

  12. Added social distancing infomation.

  13. Update to jury service information

  14. Applications to adjourn civil and family hearings because of coronavirus link added

  15. HMCTS cleanliness and hygiene measures updated.

  16. Updated HMCTS priorities added.

  17. Telephone and video guidance updated.

  18. Jury service gudiance added.

  19. Additional secuity guidance when entering our buildings

  20. First published.