Can you keep a secret?
We certainly live in interesting times, so much so that it is hard to think that we will ever go back to “normal”, whatever that means.
Whilst many of the changes are hard to deal with (I’m certainly missing regular quantities of Guinness, prosecco and gossip – although my liver may say otherwise!) others are fantastic. I’ve never been home so early so many days of the week, but more importantly, I’ve never been able to do as much court work without leaving my desk.
One of the big disadvantages of being in and out of court a lot, is the amount of time you spend travelling. A 15 minute bankruptcy hearing in Central London County Court is effectively half a day’s work, as I need to allow at least an hours travelling each way, plus time for hold ups and the court running late. So if I’m on at 11, I’ve left the office by 9:30 and I’ll be lucky to be back by 12:30. It’s hard to charge the client three hours’ of time for a 15 minute hearing, but I won’t be able to do much else, because I don’t want to get distracted by another case and then get my facts confused.
So imagine the joy of being able to do a 15 minute hearing in 20 minutes, because all I have to do is move into one of the meeting rooms 5 minutes before the hearing, spread out my papers and wait for the court to call or the Skype app to spring in to life.
However, it’s not all plain sailing. Several hearings I’ve had have gone awry for technical reasons. A whole day was lost when a barrister on the other side couldn’t work out how to log on properly, much to the frustration of everyone else. Phone hearings are fine, but not being able to see the non-verbal cues from the Judge can sometimes make it harder to know whether to keep pushing or shut up. On the other hand, I can’t see them looking daggers at me, so that is definitely an advantage.
One of the other difficulties comes most often in family courts. The big difference between family court work and most other types of court work is that family court is highly confidential. Under no circumstances can anyone other than the parties and their legal representatives be in court during a hearing, and this applies just as much during lockdown, only it can be harder to enforce. Trying to persuade, remind and enforce with clients just how important that rule is, and the consequences of breaching it can be hard, particularly when people are feeling vulnerable. At least if they were in court with me, I can hold their hand and give them an encouraging smile, but when they are home alone, listening in, they may be tempted to have someone in the room with them and assume that no one will find out. However, whilst they may be right that the risk is low, the consequences for breaching that rule can be huge.
The BBC knows just how huge – they were recently fined £28,000 for broadcasting a clip from a court hearing. It wasn’t a family court hearing but it was still one that was not for public consumption and should not have been aired. It demonstrates just how seriously the judiciary take it when you breach their rules, and how important it is that you listen to the legal advice you are receiving.
The best recommendation I can give is that if you are listening in to a hearing, and your solicitor has told you that you cannot have anyone else with you, if you think you might feel vulnerable, ask them for help. Perhaps there is someone at their office that can be on the end of the phone with you, or they can keep in contact with you by text or WhatsApp, just so you don’t feel like you’re on your own.
Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Good at keeping mum.