YLAL Meeting: Remote justice and our clients: the view from YLAL North

On Wednesday 22 April 2020, YLAL hosted its second remote meeting, ‘Remote justice and our clients: the view from YLAL North’. 

We were delighted to be joined by four expert speakers and members of YLAL North: Alice Stevens (Broudie Jackson Canter), Elizabeth Ridley (Irwin Mitchell), Yara Ali-Adib (Broudie Jackson Canter) and Hannah Costley (Burton Copeland).

The meeting was expertly chaired by Rebecca Kingi, YLAL committee member and New Zealand-qualified solicitor at ATLEU.

You can watch the meeting here: 

Rebecca Kingi discussed the particular challenges faced by survivors of trafficking and modern slavery. She noted that the system of remote justice assumes a level of access that doesn’t exist for many clients, such as access to a device, WiFi, money and literacy.

Elizabeth Ridley specialises in Court of Protection cases. She described the limitations of remote hearings, citing examples such as cases where family members in telephone hearings interrupted the judge and where some clients refused to draft a statement on the phone, or felt unable to as this would jeopardise the legal privilege of confidentiality. She also noted that not being able to visit her clients living in high-risk settings has given rise to complications, namely both counsel and the judge are unable to see the client in person. This means that important issues usually gleaned from a visit cannot be revealed, and it becomes difficult to get a feel for a placement of care package if no contact with staff.

She also referred to the delays in expert reports which have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that caution must be exercised when deciding what kinds of reports can be prepared remotely and what gaps may occur as a result. Waiting for reports causes delays in court timescales and increased costs. She cited the example of one trust that has now asked for 20 weeks to prepare a report as social workers have been repurposed and not allowed in care homes, meaning that they cannot complete their best interests analysis.

Alice May Stevens observed that in some cases the NHS is implicated in deaths, and that it becomes difficult for bereaved families to sympathise with NHS workers not coming to court. This creates a difficult balance between not taking away resources from the NHS, but also ensuring access to justice. She added that lawyers at this time must continue to hold the state to account.

Hannah Costley drew attention to the difficult balance between placing herself at risk by attending police stations at the moment versus her clients requiring legal advice. She described one instance where she represented a man accused of Section 47 assault and she attended the police station with social distancing in place, as it would have been impossible to advise him over the phone. She was forced to sit outside the interview room with the door open. She also noted that clients in custody at the moment have no idea when they will be on court because of the many adjournments, and that trials are now listed so far in the future that many issues have arisen.  

She is opposed to remote jury trials as she believes that the Crown Jury Service thrives on the ‘human element’ and that remote hearings removes this. She added that there is a risk of the jury being distracted or desensitised.

Yara Ali Adib noted that she has seen a rise in pregnant claims under the Equality Act 2010. She has advised medical suspension on full pay or furloughing pregnant employees with a top-up if they are key workers and cannot work remotely. She also noted that the government’s coronavirus daily updates now have a BSL option for deaf people, and drew attention to her view that  the widening of over-zealous policing because of confusion around the law could have a knock-on effect on people of colour.

We are very grateful to YLAL member Lucie Betts for this write-up.