The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal will continue its business this week through video calling – and restart work on one of its biggest cases ever.
The tribunal building in London has been closed for more than two weeks, with hearings cancelled in the meantime, due to the coronavrus lockdown.
Since then, tribunal staff have worked to ensure that remote hearings can proceed with minimal disruption to avoid a backlog of cases building up.
The Gazette understands one private hearing has been carried on remotely, and this week the case involving global firm Baker McKenzie will resume with a case management hearing conducted through Zoom. Baker McKenzie and three individuals all represented by counsel will appear from home.
The case was effectively put on hold before Christmas due to the health of one party and is not due to resume fully until the end of this month.
Former London managing partner Gary Senior is accused of trying to embrace and kiss a colleague in 2012 despite receiving no indication of consent, and persisting despite her indicating that it was not appropriate. Senior, who last year left Baker McKenzie, allegedly acted knowing he was in a position of authority and responsibility. He denies the allegation.
Thomas Cassels and Martin Blackburn, who were with Baker McKenzie in 2012 as a partner and head of HR respectively, are being prosecuted along with the firm by the SRA in relation to the investigation that began when Person A made a complaint.
The tribunal says in general that individuals participating in remote hearings will be provided with as much information as possible about how the hearing will be conducted, and will have the opportunity to test the technology in advance of the hearing if they so wish.
The tribunal’s policy committee will issue a practice direction in the near future. This will be supported by a guide to assist participants in remote hearings.
It is expected that most hearings already lined up for the coming months can be carried out remotely, although for some this will not be possible.
For new cases issued at the tribunal from last Friday, an amended standard directions document will contain new directions about hearing and expectations of the parties.
Paper-based applications can still be made and dealt with online, but the tribunal cannot take delivery of items by DX, courier or post. If the press or public wish to access a public hearing being held remotely they should contact the SDT in advance.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.