Essential Justice System Employees Put On Key Worker List

Law360, London (March 20, 2020, 4:53 PM GMT) -- Lawyers and court staff deemed essential to operating the justice system have been defined as key workers whose children will be allowed to attend school during general closures because of the coronavirus pandemic in a list published by the U.K. government.

The Department of Education list published late Thursday states that those “essential to the running of the justice system” are regarded as key workers alongside front-line health and social care staff, the police and those involved in food production and delivery.

Some uncertainty remained on who counted as “essential” on Friday as Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive of HM Tribunals & Courts Service, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, tweeted Friday that “if you are required to attend court, then you are essential.”

But on Sunday, the Bar Counsel, which represents barristers in England and Wales, released further guidance from the Ministry of Justice on who counts under the government's list. 

According to the latest guidance, legal advocates who must appear before a court whether remotely or in person count as key workers. That includes prosecutors. The list also includes other legal professionals needed to help keep the judiciary running, including barristers, solicitors paralegals and others handling current hearings; solicitors helping to execute wills; lawyers advising institutionalized individuals or others in detention.

Other legal professionals might occasionally be classified as key workers if they have to handle urgent matters involving public safety or child protection issues, according to the guidance posted by the Bar Counsel

"Barristers should decide for themselves whether they fall within the category of key worker and, if so, whether they can nevertheless keep their children at home or need to send them to school," Bar Council chair Amanda Pinto QC said in a statement Sunday. "As the short government guidance states, it may be that you don’t fall into the category of key worker all the time, but there comes a point when you do, because of a change of workload."

The list was published following the justice department's decision to keep the courts open despite the government advising citizens to work from home and avoid socializing to stem the spread of COVID-19 — especially in London.

In guidance issued Thursday, Ian Burnett, the lord chief justice of England and Wales, told civil and family court judges that the “default position” now is that hearings should be conducted with one or more participants attending remotely. The judiciary also distributed further guidance Sunday on how to handle remote hearings. 

Although courts in Scotland and Northern Ireland have put a stop to new jury trials, England and Wales have so far refused to do the same.

Instead, the English courts have limited new jury trials in the crown courts to those expected to take three days or less, which officials have estimated will still let the bulk of jury trials go forward.

Longer criminal trials that had been slated to begin before the end of April will be postponed, while current trials should continue in the hopes of being wrapped up.

--Editing by Marygrace Murphy.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the latest guidance on Sunday.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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