Working safely during lockdown

With the continued spread of coronavirus and its impact on the justice system, we're working to support workers and firms around court safety, home working, critical worker definitions and rollout of the vaccination programme.

Man walking past the entrance to Leeds combined magistrates and crown court building

Court safety, home working and vaccination

We all share the concern about the dangers associated with the spread of coronavirus and its impact on our profession, the justice system and our day-to-day lives.

We're continuing to support you and your firm. We're working on the following areas in particular:

Court safety

On Friday 15 January, we called for urgent action to make our courts safer.

We have called for a pause of all Crown court and magistrates’ court non-custody work for two weeks, and asked for a move to video hearings ‘by default’ in all Crown courts and magistrates’ courts.

The safety of both court users and those working within the justice system is of the utmost importance as we work together to ensure the justice system can continue to operate.

Working from home

There has been feedback that some solicitors are being asked to attend their office when they could work remotely, potentially exposing them to unnecessary risk.

In England and Wales, where solicitors can work from home, firms should encourage staff to do so and not ask staff to come into the office unless it's absolutely necessary.

Offices can remain open if necessary, provided they follow the government’s COVID-secure guidelines. It's permissible to leave your home to fulfil a legal obligation such as attending court.

Solicitors as critical and key workers

Some solicitors that are essential to the running of the justice system are classed as critical or key workers. This allows you to send your child to school during the current lockdown.

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that you are only classed as a critical or key worker when you are:

  • advocates (including solicitor advocates) required to appear before a court or tribunal (remotely or in person), including prosecutors
  • other legal practitioners required to support the administration of justice, including duty solicitors (police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings
  • solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills
  • solicitors and barristers advising people living in institutions or deprived of their liberty

Members should apply this definition strictly and pay particular attention to the details on “imminent and ongoing proceedings” which set a time limit for this definition.

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that there are no plans to extend the definition.

This definition of critical workers can cause difficulty particularly for solicitors with young children. All firms and solicitors should exercise as much understanding as possible with colleagues in this position. 

Vaccinations for solicitors

As the vaccination rollout programme starts to provide some light at the end of the tunnel, members have contacted us about access to the vaccination. This is particularly relevant for those who are attending court, visiting vulnerable clients or working in public settings.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has indicated that the next phase of vaccinations will consider those most at risk to exposure through their occupation and will include those involved in the justice system.

We have made representations to the lord chancellor and the Department of Health and Social Care on including court-attending solicitors who are critical workers in the next phase of the rollout.