Last updateThu, 28 Mar 2024 2pm

Expert Witness Blog

Legal sector carries on as 'new normal' during coronavirus pandemic

Since the last issue of Your Expert Witness, when we were in limbo as to where the coronavirus outbreak was going, the COVID-19 crisis has infiltrated all aspects of life – including in the legal sector. It did not take long for the Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to suspend all but the most urgent of hearings, before devising ways of carrying out more routine hearings.

To many people the idea of doing your job without actually needing to be in the same room as your colleagues is not a quantum leap: after all, the telephone has been around for over a century and many of us have embraced the internet as a way of working remotely for some years. Learning to carry on the work of the justice system remotely should not, therefore, pose that much of a problem. However, the fact that the first trial in the Technology and Construction Court has been carried out via Zoom marks a milestone on the road to remote working by the judiciary.

While remote trials in the sphere of technology and commerce may lead to savings of time and resources for the judicial system and litigators, the ability to carry out hearings without the need for witnesses to attend in person can lead to a huge step forward for vulnerable people in dire need of the protection of the law. While it cannot be remotely said that there is a silver lining, there is a marker there for future norms.

Getting back to work in the wake of the pandemic impacts on everyone who needs to find ways of adjusting to the new realities. Working at height has been one of the areas of activity that has been identified as needing particular attention. Maintaining social distancing is a case in point.

An area of the law where the new reality can lead to questions concerns the regulation of interpreting services in the public service, such as courts. The body set up to ensure quality assurance in those services has hit back at those looking to undermine its role.

Not every aspect of the judicial system is being dominated by the COVID pandemic, however. If justice were to grind to a halt during the crisis, the damage would go far beyond the mourning of those many thousands who have lost loved ones and colleagues.

For the expert witness, attending conferences with counsel is one task that has to carry on. Many experts have little idea of what such a conference entails until they attend one. Mark Solon has some tips. Forensics is another area of expertise that requires a strong expert input. There are differing views on what qualifications a forensic expert should be able to boast. One expert feels the EWI is the way forward.

The construction industry has been providing more than its share of legal stories. When Carillion hit the skids in 2018 it was obvious that there were questions that needed answering. In particular, there was the sight of hospital developments put on ice. Even then there was massive indignation – before we knew how much the NHS was to be stretched. Now the net of culpability seems to be widening to ensnare a whole bunch of professionals who should have known better.

The area of working at height in the construction industry is also still attracting the attention of the courts. Falls from height are only adding to the industry’s woes.

Which brings us to Brexit – and back to the interpreting sector. According to the latest survey of its members, translators and interpreters still count uncertainty around Brexit among their biggest worries. Plus ça change, as we soon won’t be saying any more.

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