A barrister’s view from splendid self-isolation

Lucy Reed shares a page from the self-isolation diary, the early days: adapting to a completely new working environment and coping with the unexpected presence of the kids at home


Quite apart from the Coronatastrophe, I was long overdue for a 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 But every time I concluded a sentence the start of it became out of date by the time I punctuated the last full stop, such has been the pace of change.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 the doorstep.

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.

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Lucy Reed

Lucy is Chair of The Transparency Project. Lucy is also a barrister at St John’s Chambers, Bristol and the writer of the Pink Tape blog www.pinktape.co.uk. She tweets as @familoo