When we all get back to ‘normal’, bookshops will be flooded by learned retrospectives on the coronavirus crisis of 2020. Sooner rather than later, one must hope. The first chapters of several will already have been written.
So, is it too early to draw any tentative conclusions about lasting repercussions for the law? I’d like to think not. For too long the Ministry of Justice has been the runt of the litter among Whitehall departments, struggling for even the meagre sustenance on offer since austerity bit. Is it just possible that there will now be political traction in filthy, dilapidated and unsanitary courts and prisons; and exhausted, underpaid and demoralised professionals?
As the lord chancellor complained to MPs about ‘harsh’ criticism, a nice analogy for the relationship between government and lady justice over the last decade occurred to me from the pages of Oliver Twist. Dickens wrote of the ‘experimental philosopher who had a great theory about a horse being able to live without eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he had got his own horse down to a straw a day, and would unquestionably have rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at all, if he had not died’.
Justice may not be dead, but it is long past time she was taken off life support.
Solicitors, as our own columnist Jonathan Goldsmith counsels, should already be thinking of the longer-term ramifications for doing business beyond the daunting day-to-day challenges faced by sectors such as conveyancing. That may be difficult, admittedly, when furloughs, pay cuts and even dividend cancellations are now a reality at hitherto stellar firms.
Remote and agile working is certainly one for the medium-term. I speak from experience. The Gazette team is producing your weekly magazine and daily bulletins – achieving record readership figures to boot – from back bedrooms in Peckham and Manchester, Colchester and Eastbourne. And other points on the map. How do I tell the team they need to slog in to the office every day when this is over? What will you say to your team? What will they say to you?