This is the Ministry of Justice’s regular stakeholder communications update service. This is intended to signpost the latest Covid-19 guidance and central government updates.
Included in today’s update:
Please find today’s update below
We have robust and well-established plans to ensure we can continue to deliver key services across the justice system.
Legislation is being sought through an emergency bill in response to the virus that could extend the circumstances in which a court can direct the use of audio or video links.
Prisons are well prepared to take immediate action wherever cases or suspected cases are identified, including the isolation of individuals where necessary.
NEW 20/3: A message from the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor has issued a personal message to all those working in the justice system, stating that he will do everything he can to support them. He adds that he has every faith that, by working together, we will get through this difficult period and that he values each individual contribution in keeping the wheels of justice in motion. The full text of the message from the Lord Chancellor is included below
MESSAGE FROM THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is clear that COVID-19 is affecting every part of our society and the justice system is no exception. We are living through an unprecedented time and it requires an unprecedented response.
Our normal ways of working have already and will continue to be affected as we rise to this extraordinary challenge. Weathering it requires us to understand each other’s needs, do things differently, and find new solutions to age old problems.
As the situation develops, my ministers and I are in regular contact with the chief executives of HMPPS and HMCTS, but also the leaderships of the Bar Council, the Law Society, and the prisons and probation trades unions.
Social distancing means that courts are necessarily changing the way they operate, including revising timetables and utilising the technology available to us, so that some hearings and trials can continue to go ahead.
That obviously has implications for victims, witnesses, claimants, defendants, and legal professionals.
A new criminal justice system legal practitioners’ working group has been set up specifically so that concerns can be fed back to us at the Ministry of Justice and the wider system so we can act on them accordingly. Following a successful workshop today, we will be setting up similar groups for the civil, family and administrative practitioners too.
It is a testament to our world-class courts and legal professions that justice continues to be done.
Yesterday the government set out how we will continue to keep classes running for the children of keyworkers. There were discussions about who that should include and I was clear that everyone critical to the running of the justice system must be on the list.
I realise that many colleagues are working around the clock and providers are under pressure to deliver. I am so grateful to everyone who is playing their part to ensure that the public continue to be protected from harm.
There is no doubt that the next few months will be challenging, not just for us but for everyone in our country and around the world. I will do everything I can to support you but we must keep in touch and ensure that we are pulling in the same direction throughout.
I have every faith that by working together in that spirit we will get through this difficult period. Please know that I greatly value each of your individual contributions in keeping the wheels of justice in motion.
Rt Hon Robert Buckland MP
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
NEW 20/3: Key worker Update The Government has confirmed the key workers required to run the justice system during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The listed key workers include a full range of front-line and support staff working in roles across the justice system, as well as members of the public acting as jurors and witnesses.
This follows an announcement on Wednesday that UK schools will close from the end of Friday 20 March until further notice, but will continue to operate for children of workers considered key in the ongoing response to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Full guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining-educational-provision
HMPPS has been working closely with Public Health and NHS services, as well as criminal justice partners, to put robust contingency plans in place. The plans prioritise the safety of staff, prisoners, visitors and offenders under supervision in the community, whilst seeking to minimise disruption to normal services and ensure public protection. The following page will continue to be updated when new advice is available: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-and-prisons
NEW 19/3: Message from the Chief Executive Officer of HMCTS to the Bar. Susan Acland-Hood sets out the HMCTS response to current challenges in a guest blog on the Bar Council website. Read in full here: https://www.barcouncil.org.uk/resource/guest-blog-susan-acland-hood-ceo-hm-courts-tribunals-service-unprecedented-times.html?dm_i=4CGD,SVSI,5AJ0AF,3H55E,1
NEW 19/3: HMCTS have provided details on HMCTS priorities during coronavirus outbreak. The guidance states that decisions will be shaped by critical business priorities that have been agreed with the senior judiciary at a national level. The guidance is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-priorities-during-coronavirus-outbreak
During the current phase of the coronavirus outbreak, the business of our courts and tribunals continues. Any changes to individual hearings will be communicated directly to those affected in the usual way, by email and/or phone. The following page will continue to be updated when new advice is available: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-courts-and-tribunals-planning-and-preparation
NEW 19/3: Message from Presidents of the Employment Tribunals in England & Wales and in Scotland. All in-person hearings will be converted to a case management hearing by telephone or other electronic means. The full announcement is available here: https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-message-from-presidents-of-the-employment-tribunals-in-england-wales-and-in-scotland/
Latest general guidance
Home isolation / ‘stay at home’ guidance - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance
Social distancing / vulnerable people - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people
Please continue to refer to GOV.UK/coronavirus for the latest information on the situation in the UK and the Government’s response. For information about the illness and symptoms visit nhs.uk/coronavirus
Follow us on Twitter: @MoJGovUK @hmpps and @hmctsgovuk
Ministry of Justice