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Life of a litigator during lockdown

Posted on 29th April, 2020

Today I should be reaching the end of a 6 day trial. And no, it hasn’t been adjourned due to Covid 19, it hasn’t gone ahead because the case settled last week. So what, cases settle, fact, whats interesting about that!

Any litigator who has prepared for a trial before a High Court Judge in the Business and Property Court will know the enormous pressure we are under to get everything absolute 100% right.

Once the Prime Minister directed a lockdown, my assumption was, adjourned trial, life’s easy! I was wrong. At first there was little noise coming from the Court. I was noticing more and more small claim hearings being adjourned, of course, this trial will be next to go. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Three weeks before trial, a direction came from the Judge, the Judge wants the trial to go ahead, he wants a case management conference by video. Beforehand, Judge wants a practice run to make sure all the technology works. So, we do our dummy run, Skype is the chosen platform. The Judge in his house, the Barristers at their houses, and the Lawyers at their homes, all connected, easy!

Now, this case has seven witnesses. Each witness is at home. So now I have the task of making sure each witness has the IT capability to give evidence via Skype, whilst having access to the electronic trial bundle. No problem! I thought. Big problem I discovered, not every witness had two screens. Solution, more paper copies of the trial bundles. How, in the middle of lockdown am I going to pull together more bundles, 1700 pages multiplied by 7 is what was required, and what I (with help from my secretary) sent out to the witnesses. The paper bundles were the back up to the electronic bundles.

The Judge wanted all seven witnesses on the Skype call at the start of the case management conference. Six witnesses attended, with varying degrees of success. The seventh witness couldn’t connect.

The point I’m making is that litigators very often criticise Courts. It would have been easy for the Court to say adjourned, see you in six months. Full credit to the Judge and his staff to direct the trial go ahead.

And, credit to the barristers and lawyers, who just got on with it.

And finally, the witnesses who did everything required from them.

Would I do it again?

Toby Joel, Partner, Dispute Resolution and Debt Recovery


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