Lockdown Lowdown – Francesca Gardner

This blog forms part of a series of weekly interviews with several professionals during lockdown. It aims to inform Deputies and their teams about how each organisation within the field of Court of Protection has adapted to Covid-19 and what they should be aware of. Our third participant for Lockdown Lowdown is Francesca Gardner from Kings Chambers, who has chosen a hectic time to return from maternity leave!

How has the Court of Protection adapted to lockdown?

The COP has adapted extremely well, and at speed to the pandemic. The Vice President has been instrumental in ensuring that the court continues to function. Hayden J has released a number of helpful guidance documents. The reality is that there will be some cases that will be delayed but there is a clear and concerted effort from the court’s to ensure that urgent cases are being properly determined. For example, within days of the lockdown measures being announced by the government, the COP heard a Serious Medical Treatment case (over a number of days) via Zoom.

I know of and am involved in many cases that are being and are scheduled to be heard over the coming weeks.

What impact do you think this will have on professional Deputies?

I am optimistic that there will not be a significant impact upon deputies, save for the challenges in maintaining contact with P and any delays that may be faced as regards court proceedings. HMCTS has issued its ‘family business priorities’ for April 2020 setting out what work must be done, what work will be done and what work HMCTS will do its best to do. Property and Affairs work falls under the work that court ‘will do it’s best to do’, whilst this may be frustrating to deputies I am aware of several P&A cases being heard both in the regions and in London so whilst there may be delays I would hope that deputies will still have proper access to the court’s should they need it on behalf of P.

Have you learnt anything so far from the pandemic?

The importance of slowing down, as lawyers we work at 100mph and I hope that lockdown has forced us to re-evaluate a little and find a better balance going forward. I am thinking ‘pigs might fly’ as I write this.

Have there been any reoccurring issues that Deputies should be aware of?

The main issue in my view and that, which I am aware of, is contact with P and ensuring that communication between P and the deputy continues. It is important that deputies think creatively during the pandemic to ensure that they (and others) can maintain contact with P. For example and where possible the purchase of an iPad or a request to the staff at the care home and/or support staff to support P to use Skype may be of real benefit. In BP v Surrey County Council 2020 EWCOP 17, the Vice President of the Court of Protection, Hayden J, reiterated the importance of P maintaining contact with others and how this should be approached based on the specific needs of the person. For example, telephone contact would not be appropriate where the person is deaf, but Skype maybe and they should be supported to use that facility.

Do you think there will be any reoccurring issues that Protected Party’s face as a result of this?

I would like to think not but I think delay will be inevitable in some cases, particularly cases that are none urgent in nature.

What do you think Deputies should be thinking about?

Whilst it may be a very difficult time, deputies must remember that their roles and responsibilities remain the same throughout the pandemic, that includes in circumstances where the deputy may be self-isolating in line with the government guidelines. The Office of Public Guardian has provided some guidance for deputies during the pandemic, within the guidance it states:  ‘If you are self- isolating or shielding, you must continue to make decisions for P. You cannot ask anyone else to make those decisions for you.’ However, attorneys and deputies can make a decision and ask someone else to carry it out. The guidance reminds deputies that they do not have to step down in their role simply because they are unable to visit the person.

How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

My little boy keeps me very busy, but returning to work has also kept me busy. I try to exercise alone as regularly as I can. Running has always been my ‘go to’ for exercise and its great for clearing your head, particularly with all that is going on at the moment.

What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

Spending time with family and my little boy, it has been hard that no one has been able to see him so I am very much looking forward to that!

Clarion would like to thank Francesca for taking part in Lockdown Lowdown and for her helpful insight. Coming up in the series, we will be hearing from Ria Baxendale from the OPG. If you would like to suggest another interviewee for Lockdown Lowdown, please contact Stephanie Kaye at stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 336 3402.

Coronavirus Update: Bar Council guidance on attendance at Court

The Bar Council has today given further guidance to its members that advocates should not attend hearings in person unless they are “genuinely urgent” and cannot be done remotely. However, it is anticipated that such a hearing will be a rare occurrence.

My standing advice is that where a hearing is listed, practitioners should contact the court as soon as possible and ask for guidance. I recently wrote to the County Court at Huddersfield and asked what procedures are currently in place; I received a response today stating that “all hearings will be adjourned: you will be contacted before the hearing”.

The situation continues to develop rapidly and therefore it is likely that the position in relation to hearings will change.

Matthew Rose is a solicitor in the Clarion Costs Department. You can contact him on 0113 222 3248 or by email at Matthew.Rose@clarionsolicitors.com.

Coronavirus Update: Attendance at Court and “Key Worker” status

The Bar Council has recently announced new guidance for barristers on attendance at Court and on “Key Worker” status. 

Attending Court

HMCTS has informed the bar council that “listing officers are working urgently to let people know what is happening but a good ‘rule of thumb’ is that if the trial is underway, the default is to attend unless the court tells you otherwise, but if the trial has not started the default is to stay away unless told to attend”.

HMCTS is advising in the Magistrates Court, that ‘it is best to attend if you are expecting to work today’.

In my view, where a hearing of any kind is currently listed, practitioners should keep in regular contact with the court to confirm the status of the hearing. For more information about standing advice in relation to hearings as well as some hints for working from home and dealing with the practicalities of hearings you can view my Coronavirus Update video here posted Friday 20th March 2020:

Up-to-the-minute guidance is available from the Courts on the HMCTS website.

Key worker status updated

The government has acknowledged that legal practitioners are fundamental to the running of the justice system and The Department for Education has just issued further guidance on which legal practitioners come within the limited category of key workers whose children may continue to attend school or nursery whilst they deliver essential services:

  • Advocates (including solicitor advocates) required to appear before a court or tribunal (remotely or in person), including prosecutors;
  • Other legal practitioners required to support the administration of justice including duty solicitors (police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings;
  • Solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills, and
  • Solicitors and barristers advising people living in institutions or deprived of their liberty.

Practitioners are responsible for deciding for themselves whether they fall within these categories.

Clarion continues to be open for business, with some changes in working practices to ensure that the safety of our clients and employees remains our top priority. Matthew Rose is a solicitor and you can contact him on 0113 222 3248 or by email to Matthew.Rose@clarionsolicitors.com

Coronavirus: Working Under Lockdown

Coronavirus has caused widespread disruption. This brief update lets you know the Courts’ current approach, and how you can work effectively under lockdown.

Further information and our newsletter containing an explanation of how to sign documents electronically can be found here

Matthew Rose is a Solicitor in the Costs team. You can contact him on 0113 222 3248. Clarion Solicitors remains open for business as normal, with enhanced processes to ensure the safety of our clients and staff.