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.

COVID 19 update: face to face hearings

HMCTS are consolidating the work of the courts and tribunals into fewer buildings. It has been announced that from Monday 30 March 2020 there will be a network of priority courts that will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic to make sure the justice system continues to operate effectively.

Fewer than half of all court and tribunal buildings will remain open for physical hearings, with 157 priority court and tribunal buildings remaining open for essential face-to-face hearings. This represents 42% of the 370 crown, magistrates, county and family courts and tribunals across England and Wales.

To help maintain a core justice system that is focused on the most essential cases there will be open courts, staffed courts and suspended courts.

The Judiciary recommend that you check which courts are open before you travel.  For information regarding the category of each court please follow this link.

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland has said that it is vital that we keep our courts running. and that:

An extraordinary amount of hard work has gone into keeping our justice system functioning. Technology is being used creatively to ensure that many cases can continue. Not everything can be dealt with remotely and so we need to maintain functioning courts.

These temporary adjustments to how we use the court estate will help ensure that we can continue to deal with work appropriately in all jurisdictions whilst safeguarding the well-being of all those who work in and visit the courts”.

Staffed courts will support video and telephone hearings and progress cases without hearings and ensure continued access to justice.

The remaining courts and tribunals will close temporarily and these measures will be kept in place for as long as necessary.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of the Costs Management team in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.