From 24 July shoppers will be required to wear masks in shops and supermarkets or face a fine of £100. Face coverings will also be mandatory on public transport in Wales on 27 July. The same will not apply to Court users, however. HMCTS updated their guidance on face coverings on 6 July and since then it has been made clear that face coverings will not be mandatory in Courts. Users can still wear a mask voluntarily. The guidance says: ‘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,’
With the extended court hours to catch up on the demand in services, it’s questionable whether masks should be mandatory, at least in the short term. Scientists have made it clear that COVID-19 is not going to disappear overnight and that it’s very likely to be with us for the foreseeable. Justice Minister Chris Philip commented on the extended opening hours of Courts earlier this year stating:
“Opening them for longer will ensure people receive the support they need without disrupting their busy lives. We want to make sure the court system provides the best service for those who use it.”
Service centres were introduced as part of HMCTS’s £1bn programme to reform courts and tribunals. They bring several services together under one roof to offer an improved and more consistent experience for victims, witnesses, and anyone who uses the court and tribunals system.
Many lawyers have resisted the government’s urge to extend opening hours. The problem right now is that many organisations are stretched thin as it is with shielding staff, new working arrangements, and long working hours irrespective of COVID-19. A petition against late night and early morning hearings has attracted almost six thousand signatures already.