6 weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown, and this is my first blog. I have started several others, but one of the features of this strange time is that as soon as you have found a subject that might be interesting to write about, we are into another phase. My original blogs were all going to be about the strangeness of doing business in a manner I was not used to. It dawned on me before I even finished writing that it was no longer so strange. It is amazing how quickly the situation we had never really imagined has become completely normalised.
Litigation is all about tactics, time limits, facts. It is with horror that I was separated from the dusty papers that represent certainty in a litigator’s life. For a long time, we have been moving towards a position where all your documents or the documents are stored electronically and can be accessed if we are away from the office, but for people whose work depends on not being taken by surprise, black ink on white paper is a sacred thing.
It is the same with the Courts. Traditionally, Judges (and lawyers) wanted to see the whites of witnesses’ eyes. It was a keystone of our work.
These things are now impossible. Face to face Court hearings have largely stopped (although the recent family case of Re P has made clear that virtual hearings may not always be appropriate). My opposite numbers are no longer sending me second class letters, they are e-mailing, often at 11pm. There is, by and large, a cooperation and fellowship between lawyers that has been missing for decades.
There is a new-found drive to conduct trials virtually. True, the last ETrial we have tried was not a success for techy reasons, but those technical problems are small and easily remedied. The experience did demonstrate that next time we have real potential to decide these disputes seriously, and with due process; but without the rigmarole and inconvenience of people hanging around a public building for hours on end, as we have for untold hundreds of years.
Scrutiny in justice is essential – inconvenience and inefficiency are not. The way cases are heard has, I think, changed forever.
Often people to say these days that they will not go back to “normal” when this is over. Well, this is normal for the duration. It is not easy. Some of it is very, very hard, but when lockdown is over, I will be back in the office, at least much of the time, happily reunited with those dusty files that remind me how things are.
But equally, what was unthinkable for so long has proved not only achievable but often superior to the paths we stuck to faithfully. We ought to make sure this time has not been wasted meaning we all need to look at the lessons that have been forced on us, and take the good forward.