Several law centres have shifted advice operations to the phone to ensure access to justice continues as more new cases of Covid-19 are reported.
Law centres have been swift to respond to the pandemic even before the prime minister announced stringent measures to stop the coronavirus spreading.
North East Law Centre took the ‘difficult decision’ to suspend its outreach advice clinics and face-to-face advice. Advice sessions will now be provided by phone, email or Skype. The law centre said it will review the decision regularly and provide updates.
South West London Law Centres has closed its pro bono advice clinics and is offering phone advice appointments instead. ‘The wellbeing of our clients, staff and volunteers is really important to us,’ it said.
North Kensington Law Centre has suspended drop-in clinics ‘for the foreseeable future’.
Camden Law Centre has suspended drop-in services and outreach sessions for at least the next fortnight and staff will be working from home. ‘We will assess the situation based on the latest info and hope to reopen asap,’ it said.
Bristol Law Centre has closed its reception for walk-in enquiries and drop-in clinics. ‘We will be in touch if you have an arranged appointment or contact your caseworker if you are unsure,’ it said.
Nottingham Law Centre is limiting face-to-face contact but will continue to provide advice and assistance by phone or email.
Derbyshire Law Centre is only providing telephone advice, and no face-to-face appointments, home visits or county court representation. Paperwork can be left in the centre’s postbox, sent by post or scanned and emailed.
Ealing Law Centre says its team is working from home and aiming to provide 'as full a service as possible but please bear with us if we may not be able to respond as quickly as normal'.
The Law Centres Network said that, rather than waiting to see what happens, it has been helping law centres to meet their duty of care to clients, volunteers and staff, who need clarity over services.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, the network's head of policy and profile, said: 'Right now, our greatest hurdle to continuing services is the lack of timely clarity from the Legal Aid Agency and HM Courts & Tribunals Service on adaptations. Covid-19 has been looming for some time. We should have been notified of their plans much earlier and in a more coordinated manner, rather than mostly troubleshooting at local contract manager level.'
Meanwhile human rights organisation Liberty said its phone line will be unavailable while its office is closed following government guidance. Lawyers can be contacted by email or via an online form.
Elsewhere, family mediation is also moving online. National Family Mediation, which has accredited mediators in more than 500 locations, said video conferencing is being used as a substitute for in-person meetings.
Jane Robey, chief executive, said: ‘Family mediation is a conversation, which usually involves three people meeting in a room: a mediator and a separating couple. In response to the current context, our mediators are still mediating, but increasingly using video conferencing. It’s now three people in a “virtual” room.
‘Nobody truly knows how long the situation will last, but it is essential that we continue to provide the means for separating and divorcing couples to make arrangements for parenting, property and money. Separating couples can’t let the uncertainty about their new futures linger.’
*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.
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Coronavirus: Law centres limit face-to-face advice