The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it uncertainty and destruction. It has also forced many of us to adapt to new ways of working. Whilst we may not yet be able to measure fully the long-term effects it has had, it is certain that Covid has put increased pressure on an already stretched resource: the Courts.
In what has been an unprecedented year, thousands of court hearings have been replaced by virtual hearings, either via telephone or online. The Courts have had to rapidly adapt to hearing cases remotely and the role of technology in this cannot be underestimated.
With this change come some benefits, such as not having to travel, saving time and costs. However, not everyone has the technology required to be able to participate in a hearing remotely, and more than that: for vulnerable people, especially young people and those with cognitive difficulties, it has presented additional problems. There is also a concern that some people may not have access to the technology they need to communicate well, and confidentially, with their lawyers.
For many people coronavirus has meant dealing with their legal matter alone, without any support or assistance. It has also meant an increase in small claims, as lockdown and the effects of this pandemic have meant people generally have more time and less money, causing the Courts to be even more stretched.
There is a general concern that as a result of coronavirus some barristers, solicitors, and law centres may collapse. Pro bono providers were under strain before the pandemic and we are aware that they are now stretched more than ever. A study conducted in a partnership between Sheffield Hallam, Nottingham Trent University and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has found that 80 per cent of voluntary sector organisations fear the pandemic will continue to disrupt their objectives in the year ahead, and that 60 per cent have already faced increasing costs to implement Covid-secure safety measures.
At SHU Law we are committed to helping those who need it the most. We have continued to serve clients throughout lockdown and we are committed to staying open while the guidance allows this. We are setting up a SHU Law Helpdesk. Although we can’t be at the Court at the moment, Court users can make an appointment with us via telephone or virtually to get help with procedural matters. There will undoubtedly be an increase in demand for legal advice and representation on the horizon and we are working hard behind the scenes to do all we can to continue to widen access to justice and overcome social injustice.