The First Minister for Wales has aimed to provide reassurance to legal professionals – and to other court users – in Wales in response to concerns regarding the adherence to Welsh Covid-19 rules in Cardiff Crown Court.
During the Welsh Parliament plenary session Questions to the First Minister today, Mark Drakeford explained that the Welsh Government is in ‘regular dialogue with senior people in the court service – throughout the pandemic’ and that the Lord Chief Justice had explained that Wales as ‘at the forefront’ of the safe reopening of courts.
On the 18th September 2020, 16 lawyers in Wales sent an open letter to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) outlining their fears for the health and safety of legal representatives in the court estates in Wales in light of the pandemic.
Tackling the spread of Covid-19 in the court estate in Wales
Today, Dawn Bowden, MS for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, challenged the First Minister in the Plenary session in the Senedd, asking:
“What discussions has the Welsh Government had with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service about tackling the spread of COVID-19 on the courts’ estate in Wales?”
Mark Drakeford, First Minister for Wales, replied:
“Courts in Wales must operate safely during the pandemic. To that end, officials have maintained regular dialogue with the Ministry of Justice, and with HMCTS. I have written to the Chief Executive [of HMCTS] seeking further assurances of all necessary steps are being taken to ensure the safety of those attending court premises in Wales.”
“Following concerns that were raised with me I’ve also recently written to the courts and tribunal service seeking assurance that their operational practices remain in-line with Welsh COVID rules.
“I do, of course, understand that the court service is under considerable pressure at the moment but I was disturbed to hear that people appearing before the courts in Cardiff may have been transferred from areas like Merthyr Tydfil or West Wales and held in conditions that are not compliant with Welsh COVID regulations.
I further understand that some 16 solicitors working in the courts in Cardiff have also made representations to the court service with their concerns about the safe working practices.”
“Can you please seek to assurances that the treatment of people on remand and appearing before the court in Wales – and those people working in the courts – is in compliance with Welsh COVID regulations, and to ask Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to make full use of their estate, including the restoration of courts in places like Merthyr Tydfil if needed to help us all keep safe upon the spread of infection.”
“I am very happy to take up the issues that she has identified and I thank her for letting me have sight of the letter that she herself has written to the courts and tribunal service, and I did indeed see that letter from legal practitioners their Open Letter of the 18th of September.
“I want to just assure members that the Government has remained in regular dialogue with senior people in the court service throughout the pandemic – through both myself and the Counsel General.
“I had an exchange of letters of the Lord Chief Justice earlier in August, in which he said to me that Wales has been at the forefront of the efforts made by the service for safe reopening of crown courts and magistrates courts, and I had an exchange of letters with the Lord Chancellor, which culminated in a reply from him on the 21st of September.”
“I want to give members an assurance that we have pursued issues throughout the pandemic, making sure Public Health Wales advice is directly available to the courts service, and that its advice is properly known to them. It is then for them [HMCTS] to make sure that they minimise risks of the defendants and to other people who are working in the court system, and we will continue to make representations to the UK Government to ensure court premises in Wales are safe for all of those who need to use them.”
The reality – what’s your experience of the court system during Covid-19?
- What’s your experience / you law firm’s experience of safety in the court estate?
- Should the courts make further space available to host court users or is HMCTS relying on the private sector to do this?