The COVID-19 lockdown brought significant challenges for many barristers. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Family Bar, where remote hearings of various stripes became the norm for months on end. Access to justice is twice as important now that remote hearings (be it Skype or telephone) have arrived.
Here at Coram Chambers, we rose rapidly to face this brave new world, following the guidance and advice of the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, from the outset. Our commitment has always been to ensure that all parties, whatever their background, can engage fully and positively with proceedings. Every voice must be heard. With our extensive experience in both pro bono work with Advocate and our focus on access to justice, we made sure that those voices remained heard, even if parties can’t physically attend court.
The client experience must be at the forefront of our minds in this difficult time. Instead of simply replicating the pre-COVID court experience, Coram has focused on adapting towards the digital landscape. We made sure that lay clients have the earliest contact with us as far as possible, organised more points of communication to enable their engagement with proceedings and made sure that they can follow and participate at all times; not always an easy feat when you’ve been self-isolating with your children at home. We started our online webinar series early in the lockdown and continued to provide advice, training and support for both solicitors and lay clients; we will always do so regardless of what medium we work in; be it in person or via Zoom or Skype.
Lockdown or not, we remain completely dedicated to our core values of access to justice and diversity. Whatever the background, whoever the client, everyone must be given the full opportunity to be involved with proceedings. We continue to defend these values, as well as ensure that anyone involved in proceedings, from clients to counsel, can fit the work in around their ordinary lives with minimum disruption. These values are more important than they ever have been because not everyone can find a quiet space to attend a hearing or access to the technology which we have come to rely upon. Not everyone comes from the same background where technology is easily approachable.
The global pandemic isn’t just about the wellbeing of lay clients though – Coram Chambers is dedicated to a positive experience and the wellbeing of its members and staff as a priority throughout this difficult time. With dedicated wellbeing assistance for everyone potentially feeling the strain of lockdown, members of chambers have always been supported in adapting to this strange new world of remote hearing that we find ourselves in.
This is an unflinching core principle of our chambers – we look after our people, try to identify early when they are under too much stress and work together to alleviate problems. We even took special care to assist our pupils who were unfortunately starting their second six around lockdown; now we have been able to take them both on as tenants.
The number of family cases was already overloading the system before the lockdown but thanks to the systems and methods in place, members of Coram Chambers can service and respond to even more work than ever. Where before, the rigours of travel limited the number of cases a single barrister to attend in a day, we are now working hard to combat the growing backlog by committing to more hearings in a day without disruption.
Coram Chambers, winners of the Family Law Chambers of the
Year London award at the Family Law Awards 2019, and its members are
again highly ranked in both the 2020 Chambers and Partners and Legal 500.