Positive COVID tests in Liverpool courts

by Martin Malone

On Monday 5 October it was reported that two “colleagues” who work at Liverpool County and Family Courts have tested positive for COVID-19. They were last in the court building on 28 September and 1 October.

The press release states that:

“As 72 hours has now passed since the second individual was in the building, there is no requirement for additional deep cleaning to be undertaken. We will ask any colleagues who have been in close contact with the individuals to self-isolate.

“We will be contacting public health agencies for advice, guidance and support in accordance with HMCTS policy given this is the third positive case at Liverpool County and Family Court in the last 14 days.

“If you attended Liverpool County and Family Court within the last 14 days, we ask you to closely monitor your own health and report to see if you become symptomatic with a cough or fever or lose your sense of taste/smell. COVID-19 Public health guidance is available on GOV.UK. As per Government advice you do not need to get a COVID-19 test if you are not displaying any symptoms.

“We understand the level of concern this may cause for court users and we are taking this situation very seriously. We are responding in a way that is responsible, proportionate and consistent with NHS and public health advice. The measures we have put in place in all our buildings, as part of our COVID-19 risk management arrangements, are extensive and satisfy public health guidelines for a COVID-secure environment; these include social distancing, modified search on entry procedures, wearing of face coverings in all public areas and frequent cleaning. Our buildings are not considered ‘close contact’ settings.

“We will keep you updated as matters progress.”

The news is not particularly surprising given that, following the adjustments after misreporting of new infections, Liverpool has the second highest rate in the country – over 450 per 100,000 (the highest is Manchester with over 500 per 100,000). For reference, the threshold for travel corridors is 20 per 100,000.

The rate is consistent with the increases across Europe in which, about two weeks ago, cities such as Bordeaux reported about 400 per 100,000. Unfortunately, the European statistics also show that hospitalisations and mortality tend to follow a similar upward curve.

The Government has taken the view that courts must continue functioning as an essential service, to the extent that lawyers who have tested positive have been told that they can ignore isolation instructions.

Blackpool Family and Civil Courts have closed as the result of a similar report.

HM Courts and Tribunal Service continues to advise that people should not go to court “if they are self-isolating, have symptoms of coronavirus or are extremely vulnerable, and should inform the court or tribunal [accordingly]”.

The inconsistency between the approach taken in different courts is indicative of a wider problem. At Canter Levin & Berg we are keeping a constant watch on the guidance which is being issued and will keep our staff and clients updated.