Close Contact Scheme for critical justice sector workers in close contact with COVID patients rolled out in New Zealand

The Ministry of Justice and Courts New Zealand has outlined a Close Contact Scheme for critical justice sector workers in close contact with  COVID patients. Workers who cannot execute their work remotely will be allowed to continue their work if they apply for the Close Contact Exemption Scheme as long as they:

  • are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic
  • fall under the ‘critical services’ category
  • return a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) prior to each day/shift they are at work during the isolation period, and
  • follow specific health protocols.

This scheme will allow the judicial system to continue operating throughout the second and third phase of the Omicron response.

Read the full story here.

Mandatory use of the Civil Online platform for simple procedure claims now permanent in Scotland

The system makes it mandatory for agents or party litigants to file their simple procedure claims directly via the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (“SCTS”) Civil Online platform, or by using the internet interface to the SCTS case management system. This process was brought in to mitigate the risk of face-to-face contact throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rules make provision for those who may not be able to access digital platforms and and permit  an application to be made on paper where necessary.

Read the full story here.

Research shows a majority of solicitors in New South Wales hope changes to legal practice will remain in place

Research commissioned by the Law Society of New South Wales in Australia shows a majority of solicitors hope changes to legal practice brought about by COVID-19 remain in place. Respondents note that the move to remote delivery of legal services has brought a net benefit with the vast majority of solicitors in NSW hoping to keep them in some guise. Only 22% of the 1500 surveyed believed measures brought in to combat COVID-19 had had a net negative affect on their practice.

Across processes, particular benefits of the changes have included indisputable time efficiencies for all parties, cost savings and benefits for accessibility/flexibility due to the reduction or elimination of travel and access to justice.

Read the full story here.

The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee has released a report on reforming the criminal justice sector

The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee report into the criminal justice sector has highlighted the severe issues within the sector and confirmed the need to urgent change to avoid any potential disasters.

The committee held a series of roundtables aimed at uncovering the short and long term steps that need to be taken to mitigate any sector issues and tackle any up-coming problems.

This report contains separate chapters on the following issues:

  • • The impact of COVID-19 on the justice sector;
  • • Prisons and prison policy;
  • • Misuse of drugs and the criminal justice system;
  • • Victims’ rights and victim support;
  • • Violence against women and girls;
  • • Reducing youth offending, offering community justice solutions and alternatives to custody, and
  • • Legal aid.
  • Read the full report here.

Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner outlines guidance for legal professionals when dealing with unvaccinated clients.

In an attempt to mitigate some of the challenges posed by society opening back up after lockdown, the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner (VLSBC) has issued guidance for dealing with unvaccinated clients. These include general guidance on providing a safe working environment for you staff, as well as advice for new clients and existing clients.

It’s important to remember you do not have to take on new un or partially vaccinated clients if you feel it would provide an unsafe working environment for your staff, but it is important to be clear about this and provide other services where possible. For existing clients, it’s important solicitors comply with their duties to clients, particularly in litigation matters.

Read the full story here

Law Council of Australia releases webinar on frontline legal services in times of crisis

The Law Council of Australia has released a webinar looking at legal regulation in times of crisis, and how regulators can respond to external crises in the most effective and empathetic manner. The webinar draws on the experience of Australian regulators who have been through this years bushfires as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and looks at their responses  and achievements over the period.

Panellist included Ms Rowan McRae (Executive Director Civil Justice, Access and Equity, Victoria Legal Aid), Mr Nassim Arrage, CEO (CLCs Australia) and Mr David Woodroffe, (Principal Legal Officer, NAAJA). The session was moderated by Law Council President, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC.

Watch the webinar here. 

Keep Distance Education for Law Schools: Online Education, the Pandemic, and Access to Justice

Abstract

While distance education made inroads throughout higher education, law schools kept their distance—until a global pandemic forced them all online for a time. Then the gatekeepers to the profession at the American Bar Association and state bars temporarily dropped their limits on distance learning. Now as American law schools prepare to return to normalcy, should distance learning remain an option? This essay argues that it should because it has potential to improve access to justice: distance education can reduce the costs of law school, increasing the supply of lawyers who can afford to provide less expensive legal services. Now is the time for legal regulators to make permanent what they allowed temporarily during the pandemic: distance-education-friendly accreditation and bar admission standards.

Weinberger, Lael Daniel, Keep Distance Education for Law Schools: Online Education, the Pandemic, and Access to Justice (July 27, 2021). Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, Forthcoming,

Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales publishes results of study into innovation in the legal sector

The Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales (SRA) has published the results of its independent study into innovation in the legal sector, commissioned in March.  The study was carried out on behalf of the SRA by a research team at the University of Oxford which included Professors Mari Sako and John Armour. The study has concluded that the majority of law firms were increasing their day-to-day use of technology, however, the development of bespoke legal technology was largely focused on advances which would benefit larger corporate clients.

The study has found that the pandemic has significantly impacted the uptake of technology, over the past 18 months it has been found that 87% of firms now use video conferencing services to meet clients and 66% store data in the cloud. 90% of firms also reported that changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic will be kept in place to some extent.

Technology usage was found to be highest among younger firms, firms operating through alternative business structures, and firms working in areas where technology was already established, like conveyancing. In terms of more advanced technology use- such as the use of automated documents, interactive websites and artificial intelligence – a little more than a third (37%) of law firms said they were currently using these.

The research found that the key stumbling blocks in innovation were related to funding and scalability. This meant that most bespoke development among technology companies was focused on products for the corporate sector. Firms working with individuals and small businesses stated that the most common barriers to accessing more advanced or targeted technological solutions were affordability, a lack of inhouse technology skills, or uncertainty over the business benefits from making an investment.

Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA, said: “Supporting innovation and the adoption of legal technology is a key priority, as we set out in our Corporate Strategy. It can help increase access to justice for the public and small businesses, as well as supporting firms to be more efficient, benefitting everyone and the economy as a whole. These findings drive home the fact that when we talk about technology, we need to remember just how broad that term is and how far there is for some to travel. This is not just about artificial intelligence, virtual reality or future technologies. Some of the innovation which has the greatest potential to improve access to justice at pace is already available. Such technology can be applied widely and be used on a day-to-day basis to benefit both consumers and law firms. The challenge now is how we all work together to enable this to happen.”

Mari Sako, Professor of Management Studies at the University of Oxford and project leader for this research, added: “Technology and innovation have already changed, and will continue to change, the face of the legal services sector. Our research provides robust evidence of this. But we also found that benefits from legal technology are not evenly distributed across different market segments. Regulators, including the SRA, collaborating with other stakeholders could play a major role, not only to lower regulatory uncertainty but also to level the playing field across the market segments.”

Based on their report, researchers identified three key areas to be addressed in order to allow for greater development of innovation and technology:

  • Greater support and co-ordination among government, regulators and tech developers – particularly in encouraging innovation and identifying funding paths
  • Increasing public and law firm trust in new approaches and technologies
  • Increasing the technological and innovation skills and knowledge bases within the legal sector.

Read more and access the research here.

State Bar of California publishes digital annual report

The State Bar of California has published its second digital annual report. The report was conceptualised following the significant changes in the legal industry brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating rapidly changing policy goals and public protection requirements.

Donna S. Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the state bar had said “Despite the onset of the challenges brought on by the coronavirus, Californians deserve access to a legal system that serves them with integrity and fairness. The State Bar quickly adapted to ensure that our essential work protecting the public continued. The publication of this report is one of many initiatives we are undertaking to support our strategic goals of transparency, accountability, and proactive communication.”

The 2020 report highlights changes implemented by the State Bar to address the pandemic including:

  • The establishment of a fully remote call centre to maintain service to the public.
  • Shifting examinations to remote administration
  • The creation of a new licensing programme for law graduates to start practice before passing the bar exam
  • Transitioning the State Bar Court to remote proceedings
  • Distributing $11.75 million through the Client Security Fund.

Read the full report here.

 

Singapore Ministry of Law offers free mediation services for couples and wedding vendors impacted by COVID-19

The Singapore Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) has introduced a new free mediation programme for parties such as couples and wedding vendors who have been impacted by new COVID-19 restrictions. The MinLaw COVID-19 (Wedding) Mediation Programme first took effect on 8 May 2021 and was introduced in recognition of the fact that many parties had to either cancel, reschedule or downsize events, altering the goods and services provided. However, some have been unable to come to a decision around the provision of the services through direct negotiation.

MinLaw has suggested that by undertaking mediation parties may encounter such benefits as higher rates of settlement, time and cost savings, improved relationship between parties and confidentiality. MinLaw’s programme will require both parties to agree to mediation, with mediation facilitated by a neutral trained professional in a non-adversarial and confidential setting, and via videoconference where applicable. Mediators will facilitate the discussion and help parties work towards a mutually acceptable solution.

Read more about the programme here.