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Offices set for reopening as PM relies on ‘personal judgement’

By John Hyde >>

(6 July 2021)

Law firms can start to prepare for workers coming back to the office later this month after the prime minister announced plans for the end of social distancing.

Subject to a final review of the data next week, legal restrictions will end on 19 July as Boris Johnson said England must find a new way of living with Covid-19. The 1m rule will be lifted, effectively meaning that offices can operate at full capacity, and the guidance to work from home where possible will also end.

Health secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons: ‘It will no longer be a legal requirement to wear face coverings in any setting, including public transport, although we will advise this as a voluntary measure for crowded and enclosed spaces. It will no longer be necessary to work from home. There will be no limits on the number of people we can meet.’

Many law firms in city centres have said they are planning to work at half capacity in the initial weeks of restrictions being lifted, having previously planned to open offices on 21 June before the government amended its reopening timetable. 

But uncertainty remained today about whether any restrictions will apply to courtrooms, where masks have been mandatory and jurors in criminal trials have been subject to social distancing. HM Courts & Tribunals Service has yet to confirm that courts will return to pre-Covid conditions, although it would appear there would be no requirement to keep restrictions in place.

It is understood the courts service is waiting for a final decision from the government next Monday and more detailed guidance from Public Health England before announcing any fresh guidance. In the meantime, HMCTS is planning for various scenarios.

Downing Street has confirmed that face coverings will no longer be legally required in shops or on public transport, but guidance will be in place ‘to suggest where people might choose to wear one, such as where you come into contact with people you don’t usually meet in enclosed and crowded places’. This would suggest that court users may still be encouraged to wear face masks.

’People’s personal judgement will now be key in learning to live with the virus,’ the prime minister said.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)