SKIPTON’S magistrates and county courts are amongst more than half across the country, including tribunals, to be closed from today for the time being because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both courts, which share the same premises in Otley Street, have closed temporarily as part of a consolidation of the work of the country’s courts and tribunals, maintaining the safety of all and in line with public safety, said the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

It was announced on Friday that from today157, or 42 per cent, of the 370 crown, magistrates, county and family courts and tribunals across England and Wales - the closest in Leeds - were to remain open for ‘essential face to face’ hearings and to make sure the ‘justice system continues to operate effectively’.

Others, including Harrogate Magistrates Court, York Magistrates and Bradford Combined Court, have been made ‘staffed courts’ where staff and judges will continue to work, but the buildings will be closed to the public.

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland, secretary of state for justice, said: “We are facing an unprecedented challenge and the government’s absolute priority is to save lives and protect the NHS.

“With each part of our justice system - from police to probation - dependent on one another, it is vital that we keep our courts running. This will only be done while ensuring the safety of the public, judges, legal professionals, staff and all those attending hearings and I’d like to thank everyone for their extraordinary efforts so far.”

The courts service has also ‘significantly increased’ its capacity for phone and video hearings.

Lord Chief Justice, The Right Honourable The Lord Burnett of Maldon, Head of the Judiciary, said: “An extraordinary amount of hard work has gone into keeping our justice system functioning. Technology is being used creatively to ensure that many cases can continue. Not everything can be dealt with remotely and so we need to maintain functioning courts.

“These temporary adjustments to how we use the court estate will help ensure that we can continue to deal with work appropriately in all jurisdictions whilst safeguarding the well-being of all those who work in and visit the courts.”

The media and members of public will be able to attend priority court hearings in person, if it is safe to do so, in line with Public Health England guidance, and ensuring the principle of open justice. Where this is not possible, judicial consideration will be given to them joining a hearing remotely or a transcript provided afterwards.

‘Staffed courts’ will support video and telephone hearings, progress cases without hearings and ensure continued access to justice.

Skipton Magistrates Court sits every other week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, with the County Court sitting more frequently.