A Welcome Update for Defence Practitioners from HMCTS London Magistrates' Courts Update to Mailbox

PUBLISHED March 27, 2020

Dear Members,
Please note the change of dedicated mailbox address in relation to the message below.
A Welcome Update for Defence Practitioners from HMCTS London Magistrates’ Courts – Please note new Mailbox link below
Dear Members,
We have been in direct contact with those responsible for co-ordinating the London Magistrates’ Courts raising our ongoing concerns about the safety of solicitors and discussing methods of improving safety for all.
We are grateful for the proactive engagement from Stephen McAllister and his staff and we welcome the steps being outlined in the Update which follows below.
We encourage all practitioners to make good use of the new dedicated mailbox specifically set up for you to raise your Covid-19 related issues/concerns. It would be helpful if members could also report instances of where good practice is taking place, as well as raising concerns, so that this good practice can be shared between the individual Courts.
We are hopeful that in due course we will see similar proactive engagement from the Metropolitan Police but sadly, to date, we have seen no such direct engagement and we direct members to the joint Message from the LCCSA and the CLSA published yesterday evening.
HMCTS London Magistrates’ Courts Update: Defence Practitioners – court cells – Covid 19
• HMCTS and HMPPS are working day and night to find new solutions to help protect the health and safety of all court users. This briefing updates defence lawyers in the magistrates’ courts in London, noting the statutory requirement for prisoners to be produced to court in custody irrespective of their suspected or actual Covid-19 status.
• This note responds to concerns expressed by defence advocates about social distancing and H&S issues related to our London magistrate court buildings and court custody suites, and should be read in connection with a national announcement being made today on the use of the wider court estate during the current crisis.
• Update:
o Yesterday, tests were successfully conducted on new overnight custody videolink hearings from police stations to court. The development of the innovative HMCTS Cloud Video Platform has been accelerated to provide a solution to transportation and management of detained persons in response to Covid19. The system worked well to link multiple users each at different locations, patched into the existing court videolink equipment at Croydon Magistrates’ court. Advocates will be able to appear in Court on Video Link from their office or home.
o The HMCTS Cloud Video Platform project team are planning communications for defence firms from today. We hope to have the system ready for use in the very near future in many London police stations and courts once arrangements agreed with CJS agencies.
o HMPPS colleagues have issued revised guidance to contracted gaoler staff to ensure social distancing when moving detainees around court cell areas. The guidance contains instructions to ensure only 2 concurrent legal visits will be permitted, to ensure distancing. The revised guidance reaffirms that legal visits must be conducted safely and practically within the confines of the custody suite.
o HMCTS and HMPPS are reviewing court custody facilities to ensure sufficient interview rooms with adequate social distancing and/or screening are available. The introduction of videolink remand hearings will assist in reducing pressure on court cell usage
o HMCTS Legal Operations have issued legal and practical guidance to courts on handling cases where detained persons are suspected to or have covid-19, focussed on keeping the person in isolation.
o Lateral thinking is being applied to other solutions to enable lawyers to take instructions from those in the cells remotely e.g. physical separation in the van bay, telephony etc.
o HMCTS is continually review the application of the social distancing criteria and hygiene regimes across its buildings. Where distancing instructions are seen not being followed, managers are implementing visual reminders e.g. notices and marking out areas with hazard tapes. Whilst priority only work is undertaken, unused sections of the building are being separated to focus cleaning resources on the higher use areas
HMCTS London Magistrates’ Courts – legal mailbox for defence practitioner queries – covid 19
In response to a helpful suggestion from Kerry Hudson, LCCSA President, I have organised a specific mailbox for defence practitioners to contact us in London about issues concerning their cases in magistrates’ courts and appearances at court as a result of covid-19.
The idea is to give you fast access to guidance and advice on issues, and quick responses to issues you may experience at court. We really do value your comments as it helps us in our efforts to adapt to these incredibly challenging times and do our best to protect the health and safety of all.
The mailbox is for queries about your experience at court as solicitors. Things you would raise with us at ‘Court User’ meetings. It is not intended as a mailbox to serve applications, enter pleas, seek information about the proceedings. Please continue to use the standard London mailboxes for those.
We will review and adapt to this idea depending in your thoughts. If helpful for you – we’ll keep for as long as of value.
Please send your queries to londonholo@justice.gov.uk
Stephen McAllister
Head of Legal Operations (Justices' Clerk)| London Region