Urgent Covid safety review needed in courts and tribunals

02 Mar 2021

Safety arrangements must be reviewed across courts and tribunals as Covid has made large parts of the justice sector unsafe, says PCS along with 7 other justice sector organisations.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka has signed a joint statement to Kevin Sadler, acting CEO of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, reiterating concerns that some courts are unsafe.

PCS is currently running a strike ballot until noon on Friday (5) of our members who work at 12 of the courts where staff are most at risk due to Covid, as well as a consultative ballot until 15 March for all other HMCTS members. For the consultative ballot, members have until noon on 10 March to request a replacement ballot paper.

Despite collectively raising our concerns yesterday (1) along with a number of organisations representing staff in the justice sector, including Napo, POA, FDA and The Criminal Bar Association, HMCTS has failed, and continues to fail, to take timely and appropriate action to improve safety measures. Significantly high levels of transmission of Covid across the HMCTS estate are continuing to be reported.

The science is clear

The science is clear: the virus is transmitted both in airborne droplets and also within aerosol. For the 7 days prior to 20 January, staff rates including tribunals were at 461.8 per 100,000 against a national figure of 390.5. Clearly this evidences the alarming extent of the crisis within the justice sector and supports the assertion that courts and tribunals are unsafe. These figures should concern anyone associated with the criminal justice system and demonstrate how important it is to take enhanced and urgent remedial action to make courts safe.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has served an official notice on HMCTS over Covid safety at Isleworth Crown Court. HSE inspectors raised several concerns over measures taken to ensure compliance with Covid-secure requirements in the building.

Action now

We believe HMCTS must act immediately to:

1 Roll out lateral flow testing to all courts and for all prisoners prior to their attendance at court.

2 Deploy marshals to patrol public court areas and to ensure compliance with safety measures.

3 Ensure that court maximum occupancy levels are identified, displayed and adhered to at all times 4 Ensure that court room maximum occupancy levels are identified, displayed and adhered to at all times

5 To implement an outbreak notification protocol that is consistent and available to all lay and professional court users.

These actions must be taken without further delay to address the serious and significant safety concerns shared widely across the justice system. We expect HMCTS to arrange a collective meeting for all of the signatory organisations to this statement at the earliest opportunity to discuss our concerns and the clear, realistic and achievable actions proposed.

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