Lawyer warns ‘dirty, dilapidated courts’ could increase spread of coronavirus

Greg Foxsmith

Greg Foxsmith - Credit: Archant

A criminal defence lawyer warns “dirty, dilapidated courts” with unsanitary rest rooms and a lack of hand sanitiser risk spreading coronavirus.

Greg Foxsmith is also concerned that magistrates’ courts pose an “increased risk” of spreading Covid-19 because they don’t timetable cases.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) last week said it was putting “extra effort into court cleaning”, and that it’s “seeking to provide hand sanitiser at every site”.

The Lord Chief Justice announced on Monday all new jury trials will be “paused for a short time to enable appropriate precautions [particularly around social distancing] to be put in place”.

But magistrates’ courts must “continue to deal with urgent work”, with all proceedings that can take place remotely doing so.

Mr Foxsmith, former president of London Criminal Court Solicitors’ Association, told the Gazette: “The position for magistrates’ courts appears to have the right aspirations but in practice courts are still sitting. Obviously the administration of justice must continue – crimes are still committed, and there has to be provision to protect the public.

“However, non-violent crimes should be being adjourned. Non-custody cases should be dealt with administratively. There should be increased use of video-link. And where the courts have to sit, there should be greater provision for a safe environment.

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“There are no hand-sanitisers at courts, the buildings themselves after years of under-investment are dilapidated and dirty, often with unsanitary rest-rooms and frequently without soap or hot water.”

He added: “The magistrates courts do not timetable cases so everyone arrives at 9.30am and then waits around, increasing risk of co-contamination.”

Mr Foxsmith, a former Lib Dem councillor, added: “Access to healthcare for prisoners is lacking. Those arriving in court from police stations or prison may be displaying symptoms, they are not tested or isolated. Prisoners are brought on a communal Serco van in close proximity.

“The government have now said those in the justice system are designated as key workers for the purpose of the current crisis. But there are no proper provisions at the current time to keep protected from transmission of the virus those at court, at the police stations or in prison, including lawyers, court staff, gaolers, and of course the accused themselves.”

An MoJ spokesperson said: “Any issues with cleanliness at a site, or problems that would prevent users washing their hands, is being dealt with as a matter of priority. We have also asked our contractors to pay extra attention to cleaning basins and hand-washing facilities and court staff have been asked to check these every day, including supplies of soap and paper towels.

“If we have a confirmed case of coronavirus we will follow government guidelines and carry out a deep clean of the setting or areas with which the individual would have had contact.

“We are seeking to provide hand sanitiser at every site and expect an initial batch to arrive this week for dispatch to courts.”

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