Covid-19: confusion, courts and cyberspace
Por LABE Comunicación
Forget the row over legal aid. Litigants-in-person flooding the courts — who cares? Salary inflation in the City has drifted into insignificance, as have fears that robots will take over lawyers’ roles.
The legal profession is obsessed with Covid-19 — which by coincidence sounds a bit like one of the robots in Star Wars — to the exclusion of all other issues, on which it was fixated only a few weeks ago.
In a bid to keep up with who is doing what in the legal profession, here is a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to help you to sound informed at fashionable dinner parties, which, of course, you will be attending via Skype.
Some will feel considerable sympathy for Lord Burnett of Maldon, the lord chief justice. He has taken a lot of flack over the past few days, mostly over the Ministry of Justice’s indecision about the approach to crown court trials during the crisis. Late on Tuesday evening, Lord Burnett and ministers said that all trials listed to run for more than three days should be postponed.
The move triggered ridicule from some lawyers because hours earlier ministers and the Crown Prosecution Service had been holding the line that it was “business as usual” in the courts. Lawyers quickly pointed out that there are plenty of crown court cases that wrap up in less than three days and that jurors, witnesses, counsel and judges would be at significant risk by being confined in small courtrooms.
The UK’s highest bench is soldiering on for the time being. A statement from the Supreme Court said that it had beefed up its cleaning routine, but that oral hearings had not been cancelled, which put the UK court in stark contrast with its US counterpart.
While the court in Washington has closed its building to the public, in Parliament Square curious individuals can still attend.
“When the court is sitting members of the public will be allowed admittance to watch cases but not to enter the building for non-court related purposes . . . nor when the court is not sitting,” it said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the court said that the situation was under constant review. “We are making every effort to maintain a functioning court system in support of the administration of justice and rule of law,” she said. “We have been doing all that we can to ensure a safe environment. We are also currently testing video-conferencing technology that could allow the court to operate key functions virtually.”
Many City law firms put on a brave face and sent emails to clients and others to show that the bug would not beat them. Edward Hoare, the senior partner at Goodman Derrick, adopted a Blitz-spirit style. “Even before this health crisis the majority of our lawyers were able to work remotely,” he says. “Despite everything that is happening we are confident that our clients should not experience significant disruption.”
Shane Gleghorn, the managing partner of the stricken Taylor Wessing, rushed to cyberspace to reassure the world that “we have been working with relevant health organisations and regulatory bodies, and planning our response to these events”.
Kevin Gold, the managing partner of Mishcon de Reya, adopted an almost apocalyptic tone. “We are living in uncertain and worrying times with a crisis that is affecting our lives in a manner none of us has experienced before,” he told clients in an email that might as well have been shrouded in black.
Students have also been affected. The Bar Standards Board has postponed exams for the Bar professional training course and the University of Law and London’s City University law school moved to online lectures.
Several legal events have also been cancelled — the most recent being the decision yesterday to knock on the head a shindig to mark the tenth anniversary of the Sentencing Council.
That is just a taster of the legal profession’s reaction to the coronavirus. By this time next week, everything could be a lot worse . . . or, you never know, marginally better.
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