Coronavirus, in a perverse way, opens up new vistas for me as a family litigation lawyer; and it may have benign consequences for open justice in family courts.
I stopped conventional practice (daily trips to an office, advice to clients, letter writing (email was the exception then), and advocacy) nearly ten years ago. I have retained my practising certificate. Most of my work as a lawyer is as a form of journalist, commentator and writer. I am a contributer to Family Court Practice. The French have a word – jurist – which seems to encompass research and advice. I like that for me. I can do all of that distantly. I need only access to the internet, a printer, a scanner and a few books as a luxury.
My former clients were often distant. I dealt with them only by telephone. I specialised in child support. My clients were from all over the country. It demanded occasional trips to the Administrative Court in Cardiff or London or to tribunals around the country. Remote advising is routine for me. Skype could bring the client face-to-face. And if courts deal remotely with advocates, I could ‘appear’ in court from Burgundy or Paris, if court and security demands are met and the back-ground is suitable.
If clients want me to act – or Advocate takes me on for pro bono work – remote working could affect me considerably. As I write I am finding out if I can deal with a tricky financial relief case in the Midlands. The client cannot pay. The husband, who has a third (propertied) Russian wife, won’t pay. If I can deal with the case remotely – who knows?
And for open justice? If media representatives take to the remote idea, it could open up the family courts still more to constructive review, and to the judges being more often judged while judging (to adapt Jeremy Bentham). And the judges, the press and many laypeople, would say that was – perversely – a good outcome from coronavirus too.
David is the author of Children's Views and Evidence, Privilege, Privacy and Confidentiality in Family Proceedings.