Keeping court and tribunal buildings safe, secure and clean

This page provides details about security, cleaning and social-distancing arrangements in court and tribunal buildings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

These arrangements are to help us maintain safety of all in our court and tribunal buildings and are in line with Public Health guidance.

Look out for information posters to guide you when you’re in our buildings.

Keeping safe when queuing and going through security

You must go through security every time you enter a court or tribunal building. This guide includes what you can and cannot bring into court or tribunal building.

Here are some important things for you to know and for you to do:

  • keep a 2m gap between people. Please play your part by observing this distance while queuing and on entering the building
  • a court security officer or a member of court staff will ask you to enter the building. You should not enter until you are invited to
  • you’ll be asked to confirm that you do not have any symptoms of coronavirus – such as a high temperature, fever, a continuous cough or loss of sense of smell or taste
  • we’ll be following latest government and NHS guidelines. If you appear to have symptoms, you will not be invited into the building. You will need to contact the court or tribunal and legal counsel by phone

Bag searches

Our court security officers will carry out bag searches in a way that minimises exposure (the potential risk of individuals sneezing or coughing directly at each other).

They will follow the process steps below:

  • the bag search will be a “hands off” check. There will be no physical contact with you and the search will be carried out from a 2m distance
  • keeping a 2m distance, you will be asked to open your bag so the security officer can check you’re not carrying any items you’re not allowed to take in. You may be asked to empty the items in a tray and step back. If you have items in your bag that you would prefer not to be in public view, let the security officer know before the search begins
  • once you have stepped back, the court security officer will visually check the contents in the tray and your bag
  • if the security officer is content you are not carrying any restricted items, the check will be completed. We recently changed our security policy to allow people to also bring hand sanitiser into our buildings – our court security officers will ask you to use it to prove it’s not harmful
  • the security officer will then step back 2m and advise you that you may collect your belongings, after you have walked through the archway detector

Archway detectors

You will usually walk through an archway detector.

  • you need to maintain the 2m distance as you walk through the archway. Remember to empty all loose or metal items into the trays
  • if an item is detected by the archway detector, an alert will sound
  • the security officer will guide you back and forth through the archway until the item is identified and you pass through the archway without an alert
  • if after three attempts, an alert still sounds, the security officer will have to use a hand-held detector to detect the item (see below)

Use of hand-held detectors

If an alert is still sounding after you have made three attempts to walk through the archway detector, court security officers will need to conduct a search with a hand-held detector.

The security officer will have to come within less than a 2m distance of you. To avoid the potential risk of an individual sneezing or coughing, they will follow the process steps below:

  • the security officer will explain that they will enter the 2m zone and they will talk you through actions
  • the security officer will not touch you
  • to avoid the potential risk of exposure (from individuals coughing and/or sneezing directly at each other), you will not be searched facing the court security officer
  • you will be asked to face away from the security officer. You must not change the position /direction of where you are facing during the process
  • you will be asked to confirm you agree to the search procedure
  • if you decline you will be asked to leave the building and you will need to contact HMCTS and legal counsel by phone

This is consistent with the government’s coronavirus advice.

Social distancing within the building

We’re following the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s guidance on social distancing for employers who have people in their offices or onsite.

This means ensuring people can follow Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2m distance from others.

We have put in place arrangements to help you maintain a 2m distance. These will vary for the different buildings depending on layout but might include our staff:

  • advising you to leave empty seats between you and other people in the waiting area. You can help by making sure you do
  • restricting the number of people using the toilets/washrooms at any given point in time. You can help by keeping a 2m distance if there is a queue
  • advising when you can enter or leave courtrooms, to avoid cross-traffic in the doors and to restrict the number of people in court in the public galleries at any point in time
  • reminding you to keep a 2m distance, for instance going in and out of courtrooms

Please follow any local arrangements inside the court building and remember to keep a 2m distance from other people wherever possible.

You must not come to court if you have symptoms of coronavirus, or are self-isolating because you live with someone that does.

Our building ventilation systems use air handling units to extract stale air and replace it with a supply of clean, fresh, filtered air. We’re making changes to make sure they bring in fresh air during coronavirus outbreak. Some will also have temperature controls to cool or warm air to the desired temperature. As the virus is less likely to be passed on in well-ventilated buildings and outdoors, we’re also opening windows where we can. Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidance confirms the risk of transmission through air management systems is low.

Public Health experts confirm court and tribunal COVID-secure arrangements appropriate

Public Health experts consider advice from SAGE when making their recommendations on COVID-secure arrangements for workplaces. Our policies on mitigations, as approved by Public Health experts, are sufficient for dealing with the challenges provided by the new variant of the virus. Current available evidence on the new variant shows it is spreading faster than other SARS-CoV-2 strains currently circulating in the UK. Therefore the existing mitigation measures (social distancing, hand hygiene, ventilation and face covering usage) must be rigorously adhered to and everyone must unfailingly follow the hands-face-space-guidance. We continue to act on the standards, advice and guidance available for workplaces, and where those change we will update our policies to meet any new guidelines.

Wear a face covering

Court and tribunal users must wear a face covering in all public and communal parts of our buildings in England and Wales. You can ask a member of staff for a face covering if you need one, though we request that you bring your own.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a practical reason (exemption) not to. For example:

  • you have disability or health issue that makes it difficult
  • wearing one will cause you severe distress
  • a deaf person you support needs to read your lips
  • you are eating, drinking or taking medicine.

Children under the age of 11 (in England and Wales) do not need to wear a face covering.

If you have a reason why you cannot wear a face covering, you may find it helpful to wear a lanyard with an exemption card or to carry an exemption card with you. Exemption cards are available to download on GOV.UK, or see our HMCTS example exemption card (PDF, 140KB, 1 page).

You may be asked to temporarily remove your face covering for identification purposes. If you are presenting evidence in the courtroom, the judge or magistrate may also ask you to take your face covering off temporarily. If you need to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound, they may ask you to take your face covering off.

See government advice on face coverings (England), Face coverings: guidance for public (Wales) and COVID-19 stage 3: staying safe and protecting others (Scotland).

Additional cleanliness and hygiene measures for coronavirus

We know that people will be particularly concerned about hygiene at present. The government advises concentrating on hand cleaning is the most important measure. 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 significantly more additional cleaners into court and tribunal buildings that are open to the public, carrying out additional touchpoint cleans throughout the day
  • introducing high visibility “cleaning support” jackets for our daytime cleaners, so they’ll be easy to spot
  • making sure our cleaners pay extra attention to hand-washing basins and facilities
  • additional staff checks throughout the day to make washrooms are clean with supplies of soap and paper towels
  • making sure we respond quickly to complaints about poor hygiene or problems that would prevent users washing their hands
  • introduction of additional cleaning processes which meet Public Health guidance and standards within all or parts of buildings if we have a confirmed case of coronavirus, following government guidelines
  • closing buildings where there are safety concerns

HMCTS cleaning principles

What you can expect

To help reduce the spread of the virus, here is what you can expect:

  • we will make soap and hand drying facilities available to you
  • staff will be able to direct you to the nearest bathrooms upon arrival
  • our staff will regularly check the supply of soap and hand drying facilities throughout the day and will replenish if supplies are running low
  • we’ll carry out regularly cleaning of frequently touched surfaces throughout the day
  • every court is cleaned at night, and we also have daytime cleaning in place in all of our buildings that are open to the public, with more regular cleaning
  • our staff are carrying out additional checks through the day. They will close off areas within a building or whole buildings where standards are not as they should be

And here is what you should do:

  • follow NHS advice on handwashing
  • make regular and frequent use of handwashing facilities, including as soon as you have entered the building.
  • avoid touching your face as much as possible
  • tell a member of staff if supplies of soap or hand towels are running low so that we can quickly put things right

Custody suites in courts

In custody suites we are applying government social distancing guidelines consistent with the security of the court and to minimise risk to all detainees and staff working and visiting the custody suite.

Prisoner Escort & Custody Services (PECS) will ensure that visits are conducted safely and practically within the confines of the custody suite.

HMCTS has introduced regular touchpoint cleaning in court custody suites in addition to daily cleaning routines. visitors are allowed (and encouraged) to bring their own hand sanitiser into the custody suite. Antibacterial wipes may also be used.

Visitors to custody suites must wear their own face coverings at all times, unless they have a practical reason (exemption) not to. You will be asked to temporarily remove these for identification purposes. Court custody officers will wear PPE (face masks) for protection, as well as social distancing being in place. The only exception is where they are in a rest room that allows adequate social distancing. Court custody officers will also wear PPE while in the dock of the courtroom, unless directed otherwise by the judge. It is further planned that detainees will be encouraged (but not required) to wear a face covering while in the custody suite.

We are also working to enhance arrangements so that defence professionals can communicate remotely via phone with prisoners from within the court.

All prisoners with suspected coronavirus are case-managed by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and in compliance with Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidelines.

The safety and security of all court custody users (including visitors) is primarily the responsibility of the HMPPS PECS. In collaboration with HMCTS, PECS have completed their own detailed risk assessments of court custody suites. This includes identifying the number of detainees and visitors that can safely be accommodated in the cell area while maintaining social distancing.

PECS and HMCTS are also working jointly on a full assessment as to the operability of phones and alternative solutions where issues are identified.

Published 29 March 2020
Last updated 22 February 2021 + show all updates
  1. HMCTS cleaning principles added.

  2. Added translation

  3. Message on social distancing updated.

  4. Added translation

  5. Custody suites in courts guidance updated.

  6. Consoliudated infomation from other pages.

  7. Face coverings in Wales update

  8. Guidance updated. Face coverings to be worn in all public and communal parts of buildings in England.

  9. Page updated with 'Wear a face covering' section

  10. Face coverings advice updated.

  11. Custody suites in courts section updated.

  12. Updated coronavirus symptoms.

  13. Updated 'food and water in our buildings' section.

  14. Infomation on hygiene and cleanliness in buildings updated.

  15. Custody suites in courts info added.

  16. First published.