The Senior Presiding Judge, Lady Justice Thirlwall, and the Deputy Senior Presiding Judge, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, have issued new guidance on the wearing of masks and face coverings in courts.
The statement, issued on 15th January, reads: “From now on, judges and magistrates should strongly encourage the wearing of masks/face coverings by everyone in the courtroom except for the judge/presiding magistrate, the advocate who is speaking and the witness giving evidence.
“Jurors should be strongly encouraged to wear masks/face coverings in their retiring room.”
Lady Justice Thirlwall and Lord Justice Haddon-Cave's move came as the Law Society called for urgent action including a possible two-week pause of non-custodial Crown and magistrates’ court work “amid escalating safety concerns”.
Also last week, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association issued a call for action, advising its members that it was no longer safe to continue to attend Magistrates' courts.
The latest guidance replaces guidance issued on 17 November 2020. That had said that cases were being heard in courtrooms where social-distancing requirements were in place and there was "no requirement upon anyone to wear facemasks."
The 17 November 2020 guidance had said: "Court users may wish to wear a mask in the courtroom. There is no difficulty with this, even when socially distanced, as Judges and magistrates understand that it is important that court users feel comfortable taking part in the proceedings, whilst bearing in mind that anyone who is speaking in court must be audible.
"It is likely that witnesses will be asked to remove their mask while giving evidence.
"There is no prohibition upon judges or magistrates wearing facemasks, even when socially distanced. Magistrates who are not presiding may wish to wear a facemask for the entire duration of hearing. Judges and presiding justices may wish to wear a facemask during periods when they are not speaking.
"The wearing of facemasks on the bench is a matter of personal choice for each judge or magistrate."