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Face masks in court still not necessary, says HMCTS

By Monidipa Fouzder  >>

Court users will continue to be told they do not need to wear a face covering despite the government’s announcement about mandatory face coverings in shops and supermarkets.

From 24 July, shoppers in England will have to wear a face covering or face a fine of up to £100. Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport in Wales from 27 July.

The Gazette asked HM Courts & Tribunals Service if new rules will be introduced for face masks in courts following the government’s latest announcement and was told today that current guidance for court users still stands.

HMCTS updated its guidance for court users on face coverings on 6 July.

The guidance says face coverings should be worn in enclosed places where social distancing is not possible, such as public transport and shops. ‘Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with,’ it says.

‘Face coverings do not replace social distancing or good hygiene and the range of measures we have introduced in these areas still apply. You should not need to wear a face covering inside our court and tribunal buildings and you will not routinely be provided with one. If there are specific reasons why you need a face covering and you don’t have your own, you can ask a member of staff.’

Court users will be permitted to wear face coverings in court buildings if they want to. However, they may be asked to temporarily remove it for identification purposes. Judges and magistrates will decide what is to be worn in the courtroom.

Michael Gray, managing director of Chester firm Gray & Co Solicitors, who has previously raised court safety concerns, said courts require people to be in close contact for significant periods of time.

He said: ‘I have heard anecdotally that some judges have been critical of professionals wearing masks in court – but of course they are very much away from close contact with people sat often on their own.’

Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said it would be wise to have a policy on face coverings for courts which are old, cramped and busy.

Waddington said: ‘I think lawyers will be sensible about this in order to protect not only other people, but also themselves. Some courtrooms are airy and spacious, and now planned to ensure people can keep their distance. However, there are times when lawyers will need to consult quietly with the clerk, the Crown Prosecution Service, the client. There’s a very strong argument that masks should be worn for that. I suppose if they’re to be worn for those close consultations, then it would be wise to simply keep them on full time, rather than continuously taking off and putting back on.’

Last month, Trish Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, strongly recommended wearing face coverings in court – an environment she said was risky for transmitting Covid-19.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)