PCS met with the HMCTS chief executive officer Susan Acland-Hood on Tuesday (4) when we suggested an agenda based on the department’s approach to recovery.
HMCTS started the meeting by giving an overview of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic to date by highlighting a series of stages including operating safely, learning how to support justice in a different way (including remote working) and increasing more in person hearings. Having run through the on strength figures and the national picture by jurisdiction, PCS asked HMCTS based on this information how long the recovery would take based on current resourcing levels. HMCTS admitted that crime recovery could take until early 2022 to get down to the level in relation to jury trials that it would be at if no sitting days were lost this year. PCS has grave concerns about HMCTS’s ability to address this and other crime recovery in view of a lack of crown court clerks, legal advisers and court associates, all roles which require significant training.
PCS asked again for information on HMCTS’s approach to local lockdowns and pressed the urgent need for an approach that prioritised the health, safety and wellbeing of our members. HMCTS advised that guidance had already been published as a response to the Leicester local lockdown. PCS is stunned to learn that guidance has been published without any consultation and has pressed for an urgent meeting to discuss. HMCTS further advised that the government advice in relation to local lockdowns does not necessitate workplaces to close and therefore confirmed there are currently no plans to reduce work in Greater Manchester, Yorkshire or Leicester. We demanded that a national agreement covering the approach to local lockdowns is negotiated and then discussed at a regional level with areas impacted.
Staff return to work
We raised concerns from members about returns to workplaces and equally raised concerns that increasing capacity in workplaces could potentially impact on the safe working arrangements established for those who have continued to attend workplaces. HMCTS advised that their starting point is that they are not in the business of asking people to return to the workplace ‘just because’ but it is about striking a balance. Assurances were received that if workplaces cannot be safe with normal staffing levels then there will be no expectation for all staff to return to the workplace. HMCTS’s expectation is that those that can remote work should continue to do so and for those that are unable to work from home workplaces must be safe and covid-19 secure. PCS does not believe that current risk assessment processes even with further recent concessions from HMCTS is ensuring workplaces are covid-19 secure.
PCS challenged HMCTS on its response to the PCS 5 tests letter. The response to the test on individual risk assessments directly conflicts the advice issued by the chief people officer about the requirement to undertake these. HMCTS advised that they are undertaking individual risk assessments under the ‘keeping in touch’ arrangements. Our view is that these arrangements do not go far enough and we are continuing to press the need for formal individual risk assessments that would provide members with legal protections.
We confirmed our position is that we do not support any move to reduce social distancing arrangements from 2 metres to 1m plus. We recognise that reducing to 1m plus would increase footfall in HMCTS workplaces and present significant risks to our members. HMCTS confirmed that the starting point for social distancing remains at 2 metres but advised that there will be some circumstances where this will not be possible and 1m plus will need to be implemented. They advised that Public Health England has confirmed that this is a safe approach. PCS does not agree. We are concerned that members of the public are already breaching the 2 metre rule and that any reduction places our members at risk. Members with concerns about any reduction to 1 metre plus, which has not been agreed by PCS, should contact their local representative in the first instance for advice. Find your rep's details by logging in to PCS Digital.