For the first time in its history, the Supreme Court conducted a case entirely through video conferencing this morning (24 March), after taking the decision to close its building to the public due to the spread of Covid-19.
The move saw the matter of Fowler (Respondent) v Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (Appellant) conducted virtually, with all cases and judgment hand-downs set to continue via video conferencing until further notice. The measures will see legal teams and counsel, as well as each of the justices, located separately.
The first judgment handed down under the new arrangements will be Elgizouli (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) tomorrow morning, with the hand-down set to be streamed by the Supreme Court before becoming available through an on-demand service.
Though the new measures will remain for the foreseeable future, the Supreme Court has stated it will be keeping them under ongoing review. The move towards video conferencing comes after the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, was among those to intervene last week calling for courts to adapt amid the worsening crisis. On Monday, Lord Burnett also revealed that no new trials will start, and ongoing trials will be paused as arrangements are put in place to ensure they can continue safely.
Elsewhere, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has written to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) raising concerns about the regulator’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, in particular the decision to defer Legal Practice Course (LPC) exams until the autumn.
The letter read: ‘We understand the SRA’s need to maintain the integrity of exams. However, we are concerned about the implications of delaying LPC exams until autumn 2020, as was the SRA’s initial response. Importantly, there is no known timescale for this virus and its implications on society. It therefore seems unworkable to suggest a later timeframe to simply postpone exams until. An alternative solution needs to be found now.’
The JLD also raised concerns that further clarification was required for trainee solicitors on issues such as working from home, sick leave, access to supervision and the availability of newly qualified positions.