Lawyers and the Judiciary: How is Covid-19 Affecting Justice?

With the coming of COVID-19 in January of 2020 many lives have been affected in Trinidad and Tobago. Not only have people’s employment been affected, but also the practice of many professions as well.

One such profession that has been affected is the Legal Profession. Due to Covid-19 the Legal Profession has to make necessary changes to ensure that persons and clients within the profession are kept safe.

The judiciary through numerous practice directions made various amount of decisions to ensure that Covid-19 does not spread. Decisions such the closure of the courts to all persons and the introduction of virtual courts and electronic filings were introduced.

Speaking with many attorneys who asked not to be named indicated that there were mixed reactions to these decisions.

Attorneys have indicated that many times they are at pains with logging on to courts via links sent and not being able to get logged in and their matters are not heard. Also sometimes with filing through electronic means and it is never properly registered.

Some lawyers have indicated that many trials are unable to proceed due to juries having difficulties or being unable to attend court.

Also because of the virtual court setting, police officers cannot always attending court, either, as they have problems connecting to the virtual court. When this happens, justice is delayed and we must always remember that justice delayed is justice denied.

Also with the closing of the courts, many persons have had difficulty with paying tickets and even paying into court for maintenance matters.

COVID-19 has also caused many lawyers to lose clients, as persons may not be able to attend meetings at their offices. This has placed financial burdens on lawyers who may then be unable to pay rents for their offices. Some lawyers have indicated that due to these financial problems, they have had to either close their offices or work remotely. Many have indicated that their lives have been affected, having difficulty to maintain their homes as their legal practice is their main source of income.

Many junior lawyers are particularly hard hit during the COVID-19 lockdown.

One junior lawyer expressed that her parents allowed her to carry on her practice at their home, in order to save on rent. However, meeting clients is difficult as she doesn’t want persons to come to her parents home, due to COVID-19.

Some lawyers have asked with the coming of safe zones why haven’t the courts been declared safe zones, so that persons who have been vaccinated can access the courts to conduct business and court proceedings. If persons are not vaccinated they can still have the option of conducting business virtually.

Many lawyers are of the belief that the changes were necessary. However with the number of vaccines and the declaration of safe zones, the time has come for the judiciary to go back to some form of normalcy.

The United National Congress has argued that a more balanced approach to dealing with covid-19 securing both lives and livelihoods was needed. The devastation caused by the PNM’s disastrous policies has harmed the citizenry all around. The country needs the humane, sane, people-centred approach of the UNC now more than ever.

Brian Baig