Coronavirus (COVID-19): the impact on the legal professions in England and Wales Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The impact of coronavirus on the legal professions

1. Legal professionals have adapted impressively quickly to working from home and holding and attending hearings remotely, but this can be difficult. Lord Burnett of Maldon, the Lord Chief Justice, told us that “the quality of the kit matters a great deal. If you are doing this sort of encounter with a laptop, you are hunched over it, you are cramped and you do not have room for paper. If you are doing a full video hearing, you need two screens: one you can put papers on and the other so you can see people.” (Paragraph 6)

2. There have been positive developments in providing online solutions to providing court services, but pending full roll out of HMCTS’s cloud video platform, we recommend that the Ministry of Justice sets out the steps it is taking to ensure that lay parties to hearings have access to the technology they need so that they can communicate well, and confidentially, with their lawyers. We also recommend that the Ministry of Justice reviews how well remote hearings have worked for all participants in all jurisdictions before rolling them out further. (Paragraph 12)

3. Publicly funded legal services providers were already under stress before coronavirus. (Paragraph 16)

4. It is important that the legal professions properly represent the society they serve, not least because they form a large part of the pool from which the Judiciary is drawn. The MOJ should set out what it will do to make sure that coronavirus restrictions on the justice system do not disproportionately affect the incomes of Black, Asian and minority ethnic or state-educated legal professionals, nor reduce their ability or desire to enter and work in the courts and tribunals system. (Paragraph 21)

5. Newly qualified barristers face particular pressure. (Paragraph 22)

6. Small high street firms are particularly at risk from the effects of coronavirus restrictions. (Paragraph 23)

7. Law centres and other not-for-profit legal advice providers are also at great risk. (Paragraph 25)

8. The furlough scheme has been very useful, with both solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers using it to reduce staff costs. We heard that the loan schemes were less helpful, particularly for small high street firms. (Paragraph 27)

9. The Legal Aid Agency has made changes to help the legal professions. For example, it has made it easier to claim interim and hardship payments, aligned some fees for remote work with those for in-person work, and halted pursuit of outstanding debts owed to the Legal Aid Agency. Amanda Pinto told us “I am happy to say that the CPS and the Legal Aid Agency have done sterling work in reducing the backlog in paying their fees.” (Paragraph 29)

10. The support provided by the Government is welcome, but it cannot compensate for the significant drop-off in the amount of work being done and remove the risk of a collapse in legalPservices providers. (paragraph 32)

The way ahead

11. It is important that the legal professions are in good shape to deal with the increase in demand for legal advice and representation that is on the horizon. (Paragraph 34)

12. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice considers the Bar Council’s proposals for using alternative evidence (other than tax returns) for bringing new barristers and returning practitioners within the remit of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and that it report back to us on whether it decides to adopt the proposals and, if not, provide the reasons for that decision. (Paragraph 37)

13. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice considers the Law Society’s detailed proposals for payment and repayment of monthly payments (to solicitors firms and not-for-profit providers) and that the Ministry of Justice reports back to us on whether it decides to adopt the proposals and, if not, provide the reasons for that decision. (Paragraph 38)

14. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice considers further grants for law centres and other not-for-profit legal services providers that are at risk of collapse. The Ministry of Justice should report back to us with its decision and provide its reasons if it decides not to provide such grants, and state what provision it will make for users of the centres that cease operations. (Paragraph 39)

15. On 23 June, we asked Robert Buckland about business rates relief, and he suggested that his requests to the Treasury were unlikely to be fulfilled but that he was looking for other imaginative solutions. The Ministry of Justice should consider how it can help those self-employed practitioners whose profits are just above the £50,000 threshold and how it can help legal services providers with their business rates, and, if it decides to do neither, should provide us with its reasons for those decisions. (Paragraph 41)

16. We urge the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Aid Agency to continue to be creative as to how legal aid is administered so that the legal professions are not further damaged by inflexible processes and contractual requirements on top of the problems arising directly from the coronavirus crisis. (Paragraph 42)





Published: 3 August 2020