Guidance

HMCTS priorities during coronavirus outbreak

This page provides details HMCTS priorities during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

We have strong business continuity plans to ensure we can respond to and continue our work in extraordinary circumstances.

This includes a flexible system – and a flexible workforce - designed to ensure that access to justice can be maintained throughout the most challenging of times.

In managing our response to coronavirus, we are seeking to:

  • Minimise the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on HMCTS staff, the judiciary and court and tribunal users.
  • Ensure sites remain open for business wherever possible and identifying alternative arrangements to maintain our essential services;
  • Minimise disruption for non-essential services that cannot proceed as normal.

In a statement on 17 March 2020, the Lord Chief Justice, The Lord Burnett of Maldon, said:

COVID-19 will clearly have an impact on the operation of all courts in every jurisdiction. It is not realistic to suppose that it will be business as usual in any jurisdiction, but it is of vital importance that the administration of justice does not grind to a halt.

He added:

Our immediate aim is to maintain a service to the public, ensure as many hearings in all jurisdictions can proceed and continue to deal with all urgent matters.

To maintain our essential service, in the face of the significant challenges we now face, we will need to make sometimes difficult choices to ensure essential work goes ahead. These decisions, particularly those relating to listing and management of hearings, will be shaped by critical business priorities that have been agreed with the senior judiciary at a national level.

Priority hearings

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.

In the criminal courts, examples of priority hearings include all matters relating to custody, detention and bail, and urgent applications for matters such as terrorism, domestic violence or search warrants.

Certain civil proceedings in the magistrates’ courts are also regarded as urgent, including applications relating to public health legislation. All courts will have regard to sensitive cases involving children, vulnerable victims or witnesses, or youths, and it is important to progress preliminary hearings and Plea and Trial Preparation Hearings (PTPHs).

In the civil and family jurisdictions, urgent work will include applications to suspend warrants of possession, injunctions and orders dealing with issues of care, abduction, emergency protection and debt, as well as breaches of injunctions and Court of Protection matters relating to vulnerable people.

There will also be urgent hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber and Mental Health tribunal deal with matters relating to liberty including immigration bail and the status of detained and restricted patients. Appeals relating to asylum or social security matters will often be involving people who are vulnerable or facing exceptional hardship.

This information is not exhaustive and managers, working closely with and, where relevant, at the direction of, the local judiciary, will continue to ensure that hearings are dealt with appropriately.

Communicating with court users

Any changes to individual hearings will be communicated directly to those affected in the usual way, usually by email and/or phone.

The Judiciary will determine whether a hearing needs to proceed, and if so whether it would be appropriate to use audio or video technology, or whether alternatives are appropriate such as adjournments or consideration of procedural matters on the papers.

We will keep lists updated and parties notified, should there be a change in the listing of your hearing. In criminal justice, HMCTS is working closely with the police, Crown Prosecution Service and those providing direct help and support to ensure that victims are updated on any changes to trial hearings, and when and how they provide evidence. Many victims already provide evidence away from the court room.

Throughout this period, public protection will be a top priority and any decision to delay criminal trials will not affect current arrangements for defendants on remand.

Published 19 March 2020