Keeping NICTS Buildings Safe Secure and Clean during Covid-19

This page provides details about arrangements and mitigations in place in NICTS buildings during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Introduction

On 14 February, the Minister of Health announced the removal of Covid-19 restrictions from regulations and these have now transferred into public health guidance as effective measures that can reduce the transmission of Covid-19 within the community. NICTS will therefore continue to apply this guidance in an effort to safeguard the those attending and working within our venues.This means that at all NICTS venues, we will continue to:

  • Limit the number of people physically required to attend
  • Facilitate social distancing
  • Use an enhanced cleaning regime
  • Promote good hand hygiene
  • Increase ventilation where possible
  • Request the wearing of Face Coverings within public spaces

We recognise that this approach is the most effective method of protecting our staff, other court users, and members of the public.

Full details of the mitigations in place are included in our Covid Secure Risk Assessments, but the table below provides a quick summary.

Transmission Route

Mitigation Layer

Action we have taken

Contact Transmission

Social Distancing

Reduce footfall

Facilitated home and remote working for some staff

Facilitated remote and hybrid courts through enhanced courtroom technology

Completed spatial analysis and workplace /court reconfiguration

Erected signage and published guidance

Droplet Transmission

Social Distancing

Face Coverings

Physical Screens

Reconfigured courts and introduced revised seating plans

Erected glass and Perspex Screens

Recommended wearing of face coverings in public areas

Erected signage and published guidance

Surface Transmission

Hand Hygiene

Enhance Cleaning

Installation of sanitizing stations

Changed cleaning task schedules

Introduced an enhanced cleaning product effective against enveloped virus

Aerosol Transmission

Face Coverings

Ventilation

Adjust natural and mechanical ventilation to increase fresh air

Erected signage and published guidance

What you can expect

To help reduce the transmission of the virus, here is what you can expect:

  • We will make soap and hand drying facilities available to you
  • We will carry out regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces throughout the day
  • We will provide hand sanitizing facilities at key locations throughout our buildings
  • We will facilitate social distancing of 2m wherever possible
  • Where 2m social distancing is not possible, we have reconfigured courtrooms and erected glass and Perspex screens
  • We will adjust our natural and mechanical ventilation systems to maximise fresh air
  • We will encourage the wearing of face coverings in all public areas

And here is what you should do:

  • Follow NHS advice on handwashing
  • Wear a face covering in public areas of our buildings
  • Avoid touching your face as much as possible
  • Tell a member of staff if supplies of soap or hand towels are running low
  • Avoid touching anything you do not need to
  • Follow the guidance in relation to social distancing

Before travelling to an NICTS Venue

Vaccination 

As an essential public service, proof of Covid vaccination is not required for entry to an NICTS venue. However, the public health guidance states that vaccination provides protection for serious illness from Covid-19. Further details on vaccination are available from the Public Health Agency.

Symptoms

You should not come into a court / tribunal building if you have symptoms of Covid-19, or are self-isolating. Symptoms of Covid-19 may include a new persistent cough, or a high temperature, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. If you develop symptoms of Covid-19, or have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, you should follow the latest guidance from the Department of Health.

Rapid Testing

Anyone in Northern Ireland can access free rapid Covid-19 tests to keep friends, family and colleagues safe. Rapid tests, also known as lateral flow device (LFD) tests, provide a result within 30 minutes at home. Anyone who wants or needs to test can access Rapid Tests. Rapid Testing twice a week is strongly recommended for anyone over the age of 18, and further details are available from the Department of Health.

Food and Drink

Vending machines and water dispensers are not currently operating in any of our buildings, so you should make sure you bring sufficient food and bottled water with you for your visit. You will be able to take bottled water into the courtroom / hearing room but food is not allowed.

Reducing Footfall in NICTS Buildings

Courts and Tribunals buildings are open and accessible to members of the public and court users, within the constraints of our Covid-19 mitigations.The majority of our staff also continue to deliver services from the workplace. For these reasons, it is important that we continue to manage and reduce footfall across the NICTS Estate, so that we can keep those people visiting or working from our buildings as safe as possible.

The current direction from the Lady Chief Justice’s Office is that Judges will continue to only require legal representatives and those involved in proceedings to attend in person where it is necessary in the interests of justice to do so. The decision as to whether participants attend a hearing remotely or in-person is a judicial decision and a matter for the discretion of the judge in each case applying the “interests of justice” test in light of all the circumstances. The interests of justice are very broad and wider than the circumstances of each individual case and holding an effective hearing. They include the efficient despatch of business overall and the availability of judicial, staff, technical and other resources. 

An important method of maintaining courts and tribunals business during the pandemic has been through the use of remote and hybrid hearings, facilitated by the accelerated roll out of our Courtroom Technology project and the Sightlink platform. Full guidance on the use of Sightlink is available on our publication page.

Media representatives who wish to observe proceedings should not attend the court building, but should use the Sightlink platform.

Social Distancing

NICTS continue to follow the Public Health Agency guidance on social distancing for employers, and as such, we require all individuals to maintain a distance of at least 2m from others outside of your household.

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:

  • Physical alterations to courtrooms and ancillary spaces.
  • Clearly marking those seats which should and should not be used.
  • Indicating the maximum capacity of rooms.
  • Closing some smaller rooms where social distancing would be difficult.
  • Use of one way systems.
  • Permitting only one person to use a lift at any time.
  • Providing regular reminders to keep a 2 metre distance.

Please follow any local arrangements inside the court building and remember to keep a 2 metre distance from other people.

Face Coverings

Guidance from the Department of Health and Public Health Agency recommends the use of face coverings as an effective way to stop the spread of coronavirus in indoor settings. In order to mitigate against aerosol and droplet transmission of the virus that causes Covid-19, NICTS will continue to provide protective screens, use enhanced cleaning, and improve ventilation. We will also continue to provide face coverings upon entry to our premises.

To continue to keep yourself and others safe, we recommend the continued use of face coverings, and request that:

  • You should wear a face covering in a public area of our building
  • You should wear a face covering in a courtroom*
  • You should wear a face covering in communal office spaces

*During proceedings, the Judge may request removal of a face covering.

Ventilation

Ventilation is not something people usually pay much attention to, but since the pandemic we're all more aware of the air we breathe and how clean it is. Good ventilation is one of the key mitigations to prevent aerosol transmission of Covid-19. Used along with social distancing, good hand hygiene and the use of face coverings where appropriate, good ventilation can significantly reduce the risks to individuals.

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. 

We’ve also started to use CO2 monitors to help identify areas that aren’t being ventilated as well as they should be. As well as providing additional reassurance, the monitors will allow us to prioritise any building related interventions.

Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene has been shown to be an effective method of eliminating surface transmission of respiratory viruses. Good hand hygiene will reduce the risk of things like flu, food poisoning and healthcare associated infections being passed from person to person. We will ensure that there is always a regular supply of warm water and soap in our venues, and additionally, have provided hand sanitizing stations at key locations in every building.

Enhanced Cleaning

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.

Protective Screens

It is not always practical for us to facilitate 2m social distancing in all parts of the NICTS Estate, in particular in courtrooms and at public counters. Where full social distancing has not been possible, we have erected glass and Perspex screens to reduce the risk of close contact or droplet transmission between individuals.

We have already completed work to fully reconfigure 15 Crown Court Jury trial courtrooms, and have installed bespoke deliberation pods in rooms used by Jurors at the conclusion of trials. More information on Jury Service during Covid-19 is available on our webpage.

Entry to an NICTS Venue

Here are some important things for you to know and for you to do:

  • When queuing for entry, please observe social distancing
  • Do not proceed until a Court Security Officer (CSO) invites you 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
  • 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 CSO and recognise that their work keeps us all safe.

Bag searches

Our CSO’s will carry out bag searches in a way that minimises close contact transmission.

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 CSO will wear gloves.
  • You will be asked to open your bag and show the CSO 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 CSO know before the search begins.
  • Once you have stepped back, the CSO will visually check the contents in the tray and your bag.
  • The CSO will not touch your personal items unless a restricted item is to be removed.
  • If the CSO is content that you are not carrying any restricted items, the check will be completed. Only hand sanitiser in a plastic bottle will be permitted, glass bottles will be retained by the CSO.
  • When the CSO 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 metal detector.

Archway Metal Detectors (AMD)

When you are asked to walk through the Archway Metal Detector (AMD) - the CSO 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 CSO 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 CSO 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 CSO 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, the CSO will need to conduct a search with a hand-held detector.

The CSO 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 CSO will explain that they will enter the 2 metre zone and they will talk you through actions.
  • The CSO will not touch you.
  • To minimise the risk of contact transmission, the CSO will conduct the search from the side and rear.
  • 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 CSO.
  • 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.

Courtroom Protocols

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.

Mobile phones must remain on silent mode throughout proceedings in line with normal court etiquette.

It is an offence under Section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 to take photographs in a Court building.

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.

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’.

Consultation rooms may be opened and available, however this will be subject to availability on the day. Consultation rooms will only be made available to support proceedings on the same day. Users must comply with signage regarding maximum occupancy and observe social distancing requirements.

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