As UK courts begin to open again, the current government rule requires barristers and solicitors under mandatory 14-day isolation (if they’ve travelled to high-risk countries) to turn up to court if they have a hearing. Legal groups, including the Law Society, are campaigning to eliminate this exemption on public health grounds. Law360 quotes Law Society president Simon Davis on the ‘significant danger to court users’ caused by allowing lawyers—and their business valuer experts—to break quarantine. ‘If this results in an outbreak, courts which urgently need to be operating will have to shut down— damaging the government’s court recovery plan and adding to the ever-increasing case backlogs in our justice system,’ Davis said last week.
Given the fact that some courts (such as the Manchester Crown Court) have had to shut down again due to positive tests, the Law Society expressed doubts about HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s court recovery plan. They specifically mentioned bias potential in the plan, in particular for:
- Criminal defense firms that are already overstretched and could struggle to provide adequate representation as some courts extend their hours to catch up; and
- Courts attempting to leave lockdown in areas where infection rates remain high, since the communication systems may not be able to alert court users of potential outbreaks or safety concerns. (The Law Society is recommending that risk assessments—including reference to any confirmed recent COVID-19 cases—should be readily available for all court users as soon as they request it.)
The exemption was created just a month ago after it was noted that lawyers who attend overseas court hearings requiring the two-week isolation could put their clients at a disadvantage by not being allowed to appear before reopened courts.