As we all know, the official lockdown commenced on 23rd March 2020, at which time members of the public were urged to stay at home and limit all but essential travel, with the emphasis on people working from home wherever possible.
However, social distancing had been introduced before this date – from the beginning of March we were being encouraged to ensure that we adopted the practice. Since that time and through the lockdown, at Lawtons we have continued to deal with all cases wherever social distancing has been possible.
What has social distancing meant in practice?
Prior to lockdown, we recognised the importance of playing our part in trying to minimize the spread of Covid-19, both within the office and also generally in how we dealt with our clients.
Being involved in the criminal justice system is often a very stressful time, and the uncertainty associated with the Covid-19 pandemic has made this worse. It is no secret that many cases in the criminal courts are being adjourned and there is huge uncertainty in how, or even when, cases are being dealt with.
From the outset of lockdown, we ensured that all staff that were still working were contactable and able to work remotely on their cases on behalf of clients. While some of our staff were furloughed on the government’s staff retention scheme, we retained a core body of highly experienced and capable solicitors and lawyers to be available 7 days a week.
We have continued to offer appointments and see clients, to obtain instructions and advance their cases. Where possible, we have conducted meetings via virtual meeting platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp. We have continued to see those of our clients who are unfortunately in prisons, awaiting trials or sentencing.
As lockdown has eased, we have started to open our offices for meetings on a face-to-face basis. This is only where we can ensure social distancing can be maintained, at all times, prioritising the safety of our staff and clients and ensuring that hand sanitiser and cleaning materials are easily at hand.
The backlog in court cases that existed before Covid-19 was significant enough already. According to the Bar Council, with over 37,000 cases outstanding in the Crown Court as of 31st December 2019, the backlog has increased to over 40,500 by 31st May. In the magistrates’ court the number of cases remaining to be dealt with has increased from 395,606 on 17th March to over 483,678 by 17th May.
To help address this ever-increasing backlog, we have actively been working with our clients and the courts to try and ensure that we use new technology and conduct all hearings wherever we can. Sometimes this has meant conducting hearings virtually using video technology, and sometimes, with social distancing in place, we are also attending courts in person.
Our priority has always been the safety of our clients and our staff. We remain committed to offering the vital specialist help and guidance that our clients still desperately need – never more so than in these difficult and uncertain times – and our expertise and experience have remained consistent throughout the uncertainty. We have remained open and available for our clients, recognising just how important that can be and continuing to secure favourable and positive outcomes.
If you have any questions about our social distancing procedures, or you find yourself needing urgent legal assistance, do not hesitate to contact us today by calling 0333 577 0522.