Quite apart from the Coronatastrophe, I was long overdue for a blog post on
my blog Pink Tape. I had tried to start one several times in
recent days. But every time I concluded a sentence the start of it became out
of date by the time I punctuated the last full stop, such has been the pace of
change. So I paused.
Earlier this week, I conducted my last hearing for a while. An odd hearing,
where, having received both of my children unexpectedly home and retreated to
self-isolation when one developed a suspicious cough, I was broadcast on the
star phone to a distant court, the only person not present in the flesh. The
following day we returned for judgment and to case manage – this time all of us
by phone, without the need for many hands to pass the star phone across the
courtroom so the annoying one could piece together what on earth was going on.
It worked better by phone, although it was not without its issues. The court had been unable to set up a telephone conference
and instead the local authority had to set up (and presumably pay for) a conference
via Powwownow. It worked. We managed to ping emails and hold an advocates call
to sort out the draft order, email it to the judge and started the hearing dead
on time. We were responsible for ensuring that the recording was switched
on (fingers crossed we did it correctly), but goodness only knows how the
recording will find its way from the ether to the court storage system. There
was a spot of over-talking and both the judge and I cut ourselves off
accidentally at different moments, but overall it worked reasonably well.
Unusually for a care case, however, it involved only three parties and no lay
clients, and since everything was agreed it was never going to be the most
challenging of hearings to conduct remotely. Others will be much, much more problematic
– I am particularly worried about hearings involving litigants in person, and
about how we manage to join, support, manage and involve vulnerable parents in
care cases. Having been on the end of that star phone I have a taste of how
difficult it might feel to be a lay party who can’t hear or who just can’t
follow what is going on.
Perhaps it was more acute for me this week (trying to adjust to a completely
altered work environment coinciding with the unexpected descent of the kids at
home), but we’ve all been trying to piece together what on earth is going on.
We are all, right now, discombobulated, astonished, anxious… and in truth (if
you are like me), quite distressed. We are all worried about our loved ones,
our colleagues, our livelihoods, our clients and their kids, society as a
whole. We are all spending huge amounts of energy trying to meet our normal
daily responsibilities whilst also trying to work through assorted technical
and logistical nightmares to keep things going and to try and ensure that
justice is done somehow. (I think I now have four Microsoft Teams accounts and
can’t get into any of them! I am, however, VERY relieved that I am already
working paperlessly – to learn that new skillset too would be an additional
headache.) But it will get easier, and this very much not-normal situation will
become the new normal, at least for a while. Even in the space of a few days
some strands of the tangled mess that I thought were all impossible do now seem
do-able. Others will take longer to unpick and sort out.
There is little that I can add. I have no special wisdom.
But there are two things I can do.
Firstly, I can send love and solidarity from my splendid self-isolation to
everyone I know or who reads my blog. We are well, thank you. And before you
ask, a neighbour has delivered emergency cheddar – a staple in a house
containing a 9-year-old who eats little else – and my parents have promised
that on their daily over-70s perambulation they will deposit a bottle of red on
Secondly, I can say a big thank you to our leaders (at a local, regional and
national level) for everything you are doing. I dare say we wish you were doing
it with more seamless coordination and swifter results, but we know you are
working extremely hard and with diligence with resources that were badly
depleted before this particular health crisis even began. And although you
cannot work miracles, we can see you are bloody well trying.
This was first published on the Pink Tape blog on 19 March 2020.