The government’slist of key workers – whose children will be allowed into school during the coronavirus crisis – has been published.
But there remains confusion as to the extent that lawyers working in the courts are among those given special provision when schools close from Monday. Discussions were ongoing with justice officials throughout Friday to establish to how many legal workers are included.
The list states that, alongside the likes of health and social care workers and food distribution workers, those ‘essential to the running of the justice system’ are also regarded as key workers. It is not clear whether this extends to all court staff, magistrates, judges, security staff, cleaners and lawyers representing clients in ongoing cases.
The judiciary has made provision for most civil and family cases to be heard remotely. Even then lawyers will be required to take part in virtual hearings.
The Law Society said it is seeking urgent clarity on precisely who will be considered ‘essential to justice system’ in the government’s list of key workers. Simon Davis, Law Society president, said: 'Solicitors must be able to fulfil their duties safely in order to protect access to justice and uphold the rule of the law.'
The government states that every child who can be safely cared for at home should be. If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who us a critical worker, then educational provision will be available.
If workers think they fall within the critical categories they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.
If a school is closed then contact the local authority, who will seek to redirect people to a local school in the area that the child can attend.
According to the most recent law firm data, 61% of all solicitors have children, with 72% of this group having children of school age.
Clarification on the matter is urgently needed, with schools requiring to know whether parents are key workers by this morning so they can decide how many educational staff will be needed.
Some help was offered by HM Courts & Tribunals Service chief executive Susan Acland-Hood, who responded to a lawyer on Twitter who had said court users might feel bad for putting children into school and putting the system under more pressure.
Acland-Hood replied: ‘If it helps - if you are required to attend court, then you are essential. No guilt.’
The Criminal Bar Association said it took the guidance to mean it has been confirmed that criminal barristers (and indeed duty solicitors, fee paid judges and others in critical roles essential to the running of the justice system) required to be at court are to be considered critical workers.
The Family Law Bar Association tweetd on Friday afternoon that the MoJ had agreed that those lawyers involved in court proceedings regularly, whether in person or remotely, are covered as key workers.
The Law Society is updating its coronavirus advice regularly.
Coronavirus: Lawyers with children wait on key worker list update
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Coronavirus: Key workers include those ‘essential to justice system’