Lockdown 2.0 and public access to legal advice
By Claudia Coote
On Saturday evening, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would enter a four-week lockdown which has resulted in further frustration and speculation as to whether this will be a repeat of March, with extended restrictions. But what does this mean for public access to legal advice?
Solicitors’ leaders have warned that measures to tackle COVID-19 have had a disproportionate impact on some of the most vulnerable in society. The Law Society of England and Wales provided a report which analyses the accessibility of justice and legal advice for vulnerable individuals and details the following issues regarding access to justice:
- Solicitors have reported eight-week waits to talk to their clients
- Hearings are being listed for at least 2022 in some places
- Hearing dates sometimes offered before they have been able to take instructions
- Remote hearings have been challenging for with mental health issues, learning disabilities, language barriers, or other factors affecting their ability to understand proceedings,
- Defendants are more likely to be jailed in video hearings (University of Surrey study)
- Suspects whose cases were dealt with remotely were less likely to have legal representation
- Many individuals have been left in limbo when visa processing, with asylum applications and appeals were suspended
- Migrants with leave to remain from accessing state financial assistance, such as welfare benefits.
Law Society president Simon Davis said: “Emergency measures must be necessary, proportionate and any limitations on access to justice must be for as short a time as possible, balancing the need to contain the virus with ensuring that those who need legal advice or the protection of the court can obtain it.
With an underfunded justice system that has been hard hit by the strain of COVID, it is imperative that access to justice is maintained at all costs to protect the vulnerable during these uncertain times.