Keeping court and tribunal buildings safe, secure and clean
This page provides details about security, cleaning and social-distancing arrangements in court and tribunal buildings during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Further information on the latest notices and directions from the Lord Chief Justice’s Office in relation to the pandemic can be found on the NI Judiciary website by clicking on the following link:
Published on: 24 June 2020
Last updated: 24 June 2020
These arrangements are to help us maintain safety of all visitors to our court / tribunal buildings and are in line with Public Health Agency guidance.
You must go through security every time you enter a court / tribunal building.
Look out for our information posters to guide you when you’re in our buildings.
Do not attend a court or tribunal if you are unwell or self-isolating
You should not come into a court / tribunal building if you have symptoms of COVID-19, or are self-isolating because you live with someone that does. Symptoms of COVID-19 may include a new persistent cough, a fever, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. The following link will take you to the relevant website:
Food and water in our buildings
Make sure you bring sufficient food and bottled water with you for your visit.
Please note that bottled water and other drinks may be subject to a “sip test” on entry to the building. Only plastic bottles are permitted into the building, any glass bottles will be retained by the court security officer.
We have closed our water dispensers and removed water carafes and glasses from the courtrooms.
You will be able to take bottled water into the courtroom / hearing room but food is not allowed.
Vending machines are not currently operating in any of our buildings.
Keeping safe when queuing and going through security
Here are some important things for you to know and for you to do:
- Arrive with plenty of time to spare to pass through security, and allow extra time for queuing.
- Keep a 2 metre gap between people. Please play your part by observing this distance while queuing and on entering the building
- A Court Security Officer will ask you to enter the building. You should not enter until you are invited to do so
- To avoid unnecessary manual searches and undue delay, it is very important that you empty your pockets and place all belongings on the tray provided
- We will be following the latest Government and NHS guidelines nidirect/coronavirus overview and advice
- If you appear to have symptoms you will not be invited into the building. You will need to contact the court or tribunal and your legal representative by phone.
- Show respect to the Court Security Officers and recognise that their work keeps us all safe.
Our court security officers will carry out bag searches in a way that minimises exposure (the potential risk of individuals sneezing or coughing directly at each other).
They will follow the process steps below:
- The bag search will be a “hands off” check. There will be no physical contact with you and the search will be carried out from at a 2 metre distance
- The Court Security Officer will wear gloves.
- Keeping a 2 metre distance, you will be asked to open your bag and show the security officer its contents by emptying items into a tray and stepping back. If you have items in your bag that you would prefer not to be in public view, let the security officer know before the search begins.
- The Court Security Officer will not touch your personal items unless a restricted item is to be removed.
- Once you have stepped back, the court security officer will visually check the contents in the tray and your bag
- If the security officer is content you are not carrying any restricted items the check will be completed. We recently changed our security policy to allow people to also bring hand sanitiser into our buildings – our court security officers will ask you to use it to prove it’s not harmful. Only hand sanitiser in a plastic bottle will be permitted, glass bottles will be retained by the court security officer.
- When the Court Security Officer has completed their observation of your personal items you will be asked to replace the items in your bag after you have walked through the archway detector.
Archway Metal Detectors (AMD)
When you are asked to walk through the Archway Metal Detector (AMD) - the Court Security Officer will maintain social distance as you do so.
- You need to maintain the 2 metre distance as you walk through the archway. Remember to empty all loose or metal items into the trays
- You will then be asked to walk through the Archway Metal Detector - the Court Security Officer will maintain social distance as you do so.
- If an item is detected by the archway detector, an alert will sound.
- Should the AMD sound an alert, you will be afforded 2 additional attempts to pass through, with the opportunity to place belongings on the tray or baggage scanner conveyor.
- The security officer will guide you back and forth through the archway until the item is identified and you pass through the archway without an alert.
- If after three attempts, an alert still sounds, the security officer will have to use a hand-held detector to detect the item (see below)
Use of hand-held metal detectors (HHMD)
If an alert is still sounding after you have made three attempts to walk through the archway detector, court security officers will need to conduct a search with a hand-held detector.
The security officer will have to come within less than a 2 metre distance of you. To avoid the potential risk of an individual sneezing or coughing, they will follow the process steps below:
- The security officer will explain that they will enter the 2 metre zone and they will talk you through actions
- The security officer will not touch you
- To avoid the potential risk of exposure (from individuals coughing and / or sneezing directly at each other) you will not be searched facing the court security officer
- The court security officer will then conduct the search from the side and rear, and under no circumstances search from the front or touch you. Should the HHMD alert at any stage you will be advised to check that area to identify what the cause is
- You will be asked to face away from the court security officer. You must not change the position / direction of where you are facing during the process
- You will be asked to confirm you agree to the search procedure
- If you decline you will be asked to leave the building and you will need to contact NICTS and your legal representative by phone
After passing through Security, you may be directed to security reception where you will be greeted by a Court Security Officer.
All Court Users and Visitors will be directed to proceed to the court room or invited to wait in a designed waiting area by the Court Security Officer. At all times social distancing must be observed.
As you enter the designated waiting area, a sanitizing station will be available for use.
To enable safe entry to the courtroom, and to ensure social distancing is maintained before commencement of the scheduled hearing, only designated seating may be used while you wait.
Signage will identify which seats may be used.
Court Security Officers will be there to assist you.
Should the Court rise for an adjournment, attendees will be directed by the Court Security Officer to return to the waiting area and take one of the designated seats. When a legal practitioner’s cases have finished they should leave the courtroom to allow others in the waiting area to enter if required.
Entry to the Courtroom
As you enter the room, a sanitizing station will be available for use.
All users and visitors must maintain social distancing while entering the courtroom.
To comply with social distancing guidance, we have carried out a spatial analysis of all our courtrooms. The spatial analysis indicates the maximum capacity of each courtroom.
To ensure that everyone can remain at least 2 metres apart, only designated seats within the courtroom may be used. Signage will identify which seats may be used.
All parties must comply with social distancing requirements while in the courtroom.
Mobile phones must remain on silent mode throughout proceedings in line with normal court etiquette. It is an offence under the Coronavirus Act 2020 to make any unauthorised recording of the proceedings.
Court users and visitors may bring in their own face covering and/or gloves as a reassurance measure.
Waste paper bins will be available in the building for the disposal of face coverings or hygiene items at the end of use.
Leaving the Courtroom
At the conclusion of proceedings, or following an adjournment, all parties must maintain social distancing as they leave the courtroom.
Where an attendee needs to exit the courtroom at an undesignated time (e.g. comfort break) they must observe social distancing requirements. Other attendees should facilitate this by giving way or moving, as appropriate.
When the proceedings conclude, all parties will be expected to leave the building immediately.
As capacity within the courtroom is limited, media representatives who wish to attend should do so via ‘Sightlink’.
In our naturally ventilated courtrooms, windows will be opened to maximise the supply of fresh air. In courtrooms with mechanical ventilation, the air handling units will be adjusted so that they will deliver full fresh air, and maximise the air change rate.
Public toilets are open but court users must observe and comply with notices regarding maximum occupancy and social distancing requirements. You can help by keeping a 2 metre distance if there is a queue
Consultation rooms may be opened and available however users must comply with signage regarding maximum occupancy and observe social distancing requirements.
Additional cleanliness and hygiene measures for COVID-19
We know that people will be particularly concerned about hygiene at present. The Government advises that concentrating on hand cleaning is the most important measure NHS/best way to wash your hands. In addition to our normal cleaning regime we have introduced extra cleaning measures to ensure our court and tribunal buildings are safe to enter and work in during the COVID-19 outbreak. These include:
- Carrying out additional touchpoint cleans throughout the day
- The use of an enhanced cleaning product which is a non-bleach biocidal disinfectant cleaner. This is being used on all touch points, hygiene areas and hard surface areas.
- Making sure our cleaners pay extra attention to hand washing basins and facilities
- Additional staff checks throughout the day to make sure washrooms are clean with supplies of soap and paper towels
- Making sure we respond quickly to complaints about poor hygiene or problems that would prevent users washing their hands
- Cleaning and disinfecting in line with the PHA guidelines for cleaning in a non-healthcare environment within all or parts of buildings if we have a confirmed case of COVID-19
- Arranging for additional cleaning hours and staff throughout court/tribunal buildings
Social distancing within the building
We are following the Public Health Agency guidance on social distancing for employers who have people in their offices or onsite.
This means ensuring people can follow Public Health Agency guidelines including where possible maintaining a 2 metre distance from others and observing any one way walking systems.
We have put in place arrangements to help you maintain a 2 metre distance. These will vary for the different buildings depending on layout but might include our staff:
- Advising when you can enter or leave courtrooms, to avoid cross-traffic in the doors and to restrict the number of people in court in the public galleries at any point in time
- Reminding you to keep a 2 metre distance, for instance going in and out of courtrooms
- Permitting only one person to use a lift at any time
Please follow any local arrangements inside the court building and remember to keep a 2 metre distance from other people wherever possible.
What you can expect
To help reduce the spread of the virus, here is what you can expect:
- We will make soap and hand drying facilities available to you
- Security staff will be able to direct you to the nearest washrooms on arrival
- Our staff will regularly check the supply of soap and hand drying facilities throughout the day and will replenish if supplies are running low
- We will carry out regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces throughout the day
- Our staff are carrying out additional checks through the day. They will close off areas within a building or whole buildings where standards are not as they should be
- We will provide additional hand sanitizing facilities at key locations throughout our buildings
And here is what you should do:
- Follow NHS advice on handwashing
- Make regular and frequent use of handwashing facilities, including as soon as you have entered the building
- Avoid touching your face as much as possible
- Tell a member of staff if supplies of soap or hand towels are running low so that we can quickly put things right
- Avoid touching anything you do not need to.