Over half of court and tribunal buildings in England and Wales will close in a bid to help stem the spread of COVID-19, the government announced today.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed in a statement this afternoon that the work of courts and tribunals will be consolidated into fewer buildings to maintain the safety of judges, lawyers and other court users.

It confirmed a network of 157 “priority” court and tribunal buildings will remain open for “essential face-to-face hearings”. This represents 42% of the 370 crown, magistrates, county and family courts and tribunals across England and Wales.

An additional 124 court and tribunal buildings will remain closed to the public but open to HM Courts & Tribunal staff and the judiciary.

The MoJ says the temporary closures will ensure effective social distancing for all court users and for cleaning and security work to be focused on fewer buildings.

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP said: “We are facing an unprecedented challenge and the government’s absolute priority is to save lives and protect the NHS. “With each part of our justice system — from police to probation — dependent on one another, it is vital that we keep our courts running.”

Journalists and members of the public will still be able to attend priority court hearings in person, if safe to do so in line with Public Health England guidance, the MoJ confirmed.

Buckland added: “This will only be done while ensuring the safety of the public, judges, legal professionals, staff and all those attending hearings and I’d like to thank everyone for their extraordinary efforts so far.”

The measures, which take effect on Monday, “will be kept in place for as long as necessary to comply with government and public health advice and will be reviewed regularly”, the MoJ said.

Legal Cheek

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