Face-to-face hearings are likely to continue despite the government’s ‘Plan B’ to tackle rising coronavirus cases, with decisions on remote attendance left to the discretion of judges.
Boris Johnson said last night that people should work from home where possible from Monday as part of a new suite of restrictions to deal with the rise in cases of the Omicron variant.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service guidance for courts and tribunal users was updated this morning to reflect the prime minister’s announcement, but does not appear to include any substantive change. Its weekly operational summary for court users is due to be published on Friday afternoon.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Gazette that it will remain a matter for individual judges to decide whether to use the cloud video platform or other means of arranging a remote or hybrid hearing, saying a ‘top-down missive’ was unlikely.
A spokesperson for the judiciary also said there was not likely to be any change in the operation of the courts, pointing out that lawyers and court staff considered essential to the running of the justice system had been classed as key workers at the height of the pandemic.
Nigel Pascoe QC, a criminal barrister at Pump Court Chambers, said on Twitter that circuit leaders should ‘consider a joint statement which seeks to interpret that new guidance in practical terms’. ‘The bar should not be required to take greater risks than other sectors,’ he added.
Meanwhile, London firm Kingsley Napley has told all staff who are able to work from home to do so from today, with internal meetings to be held remotely where possible although their office remains open for meetings if people are comfortable. National firm Leigh Day has also told staff to work from home unless it is not possible for them to do so.