As the founder of Truth Legal, I am writing to all of our valued clients in order to provide you with some general advice as to the possible impact that the COVID-19 pandemic might have on your case. Our hope, of course, is that you and your loved ones get through these unprecedented times without too much difficulty. We are with you, committed to offering our services, during these uncertain times.
Lawyers at Truth Legal (and other firms) have been regarded as key workers, because we assist in the administration of justice. We will therefore remain open, though working from home.
In the following six paragraphs, I have summarised our general advice to our clients. In the pages which follow, I have explained our advice specifically related to your area of law.
In summary, we are recommending to all our clients that, where possible, witness evidence is obtained now, usually with signed statements. All clients should expect significant delays in the Courts and Tribunals, and delays by our opponents and by third parties. For those of you whom we are assisting with litigation/claims, we anticipate that the value of some of your claims might have changed: some might increase, and some might fall, depending upon your individual circumstances. Your lawyer will advise you.
Due to circumstances, you should now expect that technology will play a greater part in how your case is heard by a Court or Tribunal.
With additional reliance placed upon technology, you should also anticipate hackers/fraudsters may try to interfere with any banking details which we give to you, or you give to us. Banking details should be given by telephone and by email. Please remain vigilant.
We recommend that all of our clients ensure that they have wills and that any existing wills are up-to-date. We offer this service.
To ensure safety of our clients and colleagues, we will continue to provide advice by telephone, video conferencing and email, rather than via face-to-face meetings.
Finally, because many entities (businesses, charities, NGOs, clubs and organisations) may fail due to the economic shock, it is right that we reconsider our settlement tactics specific to your case.
How Truth Legal has reacted to this pandemic
We closed our office last week to ensure the health and safety of both our staff and clients. Rest assured that, before this pandemic, Truth Legal was already an agile workplace: all our lawyers had laptops and were already working from home a few days per week. As a result, for the last few years we have been using state of the art technology in order to provide our service.
Now that schools have closed, our team has had to adapt and so we will be working more flexibly to accommodate their needs. As a result, it is likely that we take a little longer to reply to phone calls and correspondence than usual. Please do bear with us. I can assure you in these uncertain times our team remains committed to you and your case.
Shortly, we will be broadcasting an online free advice clinic from 4-5:30pm every day (details to follow), with a number of our lawyers ready to answer questions from the public. We have also contacted a local high school to see if they would like our lawyers to provide online free law tutoring. In addition, we have opened a COVID-19 section on our website to provide free advice to the 2,000 visitors we help on our site each day.
As you are no doubt aware, the situation is fluid and fast-changing. Not only are we all contending with a health emergency, but an economic emergency, too. The following advice contains my thoughts upon how the health and economic outlook might influence your case.
Our Specific Advice
Working in conjunction with our Heads of Department, some of whom may be handling your case directly, I have split-up our advice into the following areas of law. By all means read the full letter, or just find the part which is relevant to you.
Personal Injury Law
Will and Probate
Clinical Negligence Law
Consumer Credit Agreements (finance agreements)
Following the Chancellor’s recent announcements, it appears that employees are in a more secure position than the self-employed. There is, however, growing pressure for the Chancellor to offer more help to the self-employed. We expect emergency legislation to allow employees to be laid off, without having their jobs terminated.
Employment Law has already been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Each day, we are receiving bulletins from the Tribunals outlining their approach to the way that claims will proceed. In short, Tribunal hearings in person have ceased, with trials being changed to Preliminary Hearings by telephone. The pre-pandemic backlogs that already delayed employment claims, will now be considerable.
Should your case proceed to an Employment Tribunal hearing (either a Preliminary Hearing or a trial) then as things stand, it is highly likely that this will take place by Skype. Our recommendation is that you familiarise yourself with Skype, now.
If you are an individual, rather than a business client, then given the economic shock caused by the pandemic, we must consider whether the entity which you are claiming against will continue to trade. Generally, with some exception, it is unwise to bring a claim against an entity with no money. Given the change in risk outlook, your lawyer will advise you on what is a reasonable settlement.
In addition, any Schedule of Loss (a statement of your financial losses), may need to be amended to reflect this new economic outlook. For example, our opponents might argue that you would have lost your job anyway, thereby reducing your losses, and we may argue that because of a more challenging jobs market, the value of your claim might increase.
Personal Injury Law
The vast majority of the claims which we pursue are against Defendants (the person or organisation which caused your injury) who have insurance. Although we are pursuing the Defendant, in reality we are liaising with their insurers. Although some insurers are heavily exposed to travel insurance, business interruption and death in service insurance, we are confident that those insurers will not be allowed to fail. In the event that we see an insurer failing, then your claim may proceed against the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. In short, we expect insurance companies to still pay out claims.
If your claim is against an airline or travel company, as these companies tend to self-insure, we are concerned that if these companies fail, then your claim might become worthless. This is what happened last year to claims against Thomas Cook. Your lawyer will advise you accordingly. It is likely that we will recommend that offers of settlement are made now.
Unfortunately, our clients should now expect significant delays to their claims, though some claims may be unaffected. We expect delays for the following reasons:
Insurance claims handlers are not all set-up to work from home.
It is likely to take a long time to obtain medical records.
There is likely to be delays in obtaining evidence from third parties.
Medical appointments with experts are likely to be harder to secure, as many are called back into the NHS.
Courts are experiencing a backlog.
Defendant solicitors are likely to experience some delays.
The pandemic might have impacted the value of your claim. Some claims might increase in value and some may decrease, primarily based upon the new economic situation. Your lawyer will advise you on any changes.
We recommend that signed witness statements are obtained now, whenever possible. We have to face the reality that there is likely to be a spike in deaths, and that some of those deaths might occur to your witnesses. I regret writing such a sentence, but I feel duty-bound to write it.
Due to these changes, your lawyer will recommend what, if any, tactical changes we recommend.
Wills and probate
As with all our services, we are available for confidential telephone and video consultations throughout the Covid-19 outbreak. We would like to assist you in this difficult time. We offer help with writing your Wills, preparing Lasting Powers of Attorney or guiding you through the administration process, if you have lost a loved one.
Although we are currently unaware of any closures to the Office of the Public Guardian or the Probate Registry offices, you need to be prepared for the possibility that applications for Grants of Representation or applications for registration of Lasting Powers of Attorney might take longer than usual.
Out of country applicants may have no option but to put their applications on hold, pending travel restrictions/health situation in the UK improving. Visa application centres abroad are closing at a fast rate. There will therefore be a significant a drop in the number of applicants, although this might in fact accelerate the processing of existing applications, notwithstanding likely staff absences at the Home Office.
There are already major changes to the application process and we anticipate more. For example, COVID-19 testing is now widespread, in overseas visa centres, whilst there may be other changes/restrictions to the biometric enrollment procedure. If this trend of closing visa application centres continues, then it may soon be virtually impossible to get a visa for the UK.
Until we hear otherwise, migrants in the UK will still generally need to apply for their visas by their deadlines. However, there will be major delays to the application process. We are already seeing the closure of many UKVCAS centres: the places where biometric enrollment takes place. We anticipate all centres to close shortly and anyone who had booked an appointment/needs to book an appointment, will be contacted when it is felt safe to do so.
At the present time we do not know what attitude the Home Office will take to the inevitable delays that the pandemic might cause to migrants applying for visas. Historically, the Home Office has not shown much sympathy with out of time applications.
As the crisis unfolds, people may increasingly be prevented from returning to their home country. At the moment, there is a narrow concession specifically for Chinese nationals/Chinese residents, whereby their visas are automatically extended for a set period (currently until 31 March 2020). Other nationalities do not have this concession. This focus on China, a country now seeing relatively few new cases, shows how the Home Office is failing to adapt in a timely manner to the evolving nature of this pandemic. Will this concession be rolled out? Will people automatically have their leave to remain extended, or will they have to apply? Time will tell.
Immigration Tribunals are already severely affected by the pandemic. Tribunals are generally no longer allowing hearings in person, with appeals conducted by video-link. Requests for adjournments are being viewed sympathetically.
In relation to Brexit, it is unclear whether the Government can conclude the necessary deal with the EU in time, to avoid an extension to the transition period. At present, free movement will cease on 31 December 2020. If the transition period is extended, then so is free movement. The Government is also supposed to be rolling out the new immigration system from 2021, but this could also be subject to delay.
Ongoing claims are likely to continue to be dealt with via NHS Resolution (NHSR). NHSR, like us, are likely to encounter difficulty getting medical experts to examine clients for reporting purposes. This will slow matters in what is already a slow system. Clearly, there will be significant delays in obtaining medical records. The Information Commissioner’s Office has stated that we should expect delays in obtaining information and that the public should be understanding.
During this period and for a period of time afterwards, it will be difficult for all sides in clinical negligence claims to get doctors to make statements or respond to claims in time. It is only right that we extend latitude to the medical profession at this time.
On the other hand, NHSR have not indicated any change of play since the virus outbreak (at least publicly) but they may be open to more collaborative ways of dealing with claims – with a view to cutting costs and/or dealing with matters more efficiently. Like us, we are sure that they are trying to adjust to what is happening.
What the outbreak does introduce (because of all the uncertainty) is greater risk to any claim. We are, therefore, reworking our strategies and your lawyer will advise you accordingly.
Our view is that we have to do what we can to progress claims while we can and engage openly with NHSR with any difficulties that we have. It is likely that we will be recommending that we attempt settlement earlier than we previously would have done. The values of claims might have changed – both upwards and downwards – because of likely changes to actuarial (mathematical) tables and future loss calculations.
General Litigation (claims)
Claims of all types have been impacted by this pandemic. Courts have further slowed, whilst technology, such as Skype trials, are being rushed out. All parties and their representatives will of course be impacted by this period. Positively, we have noticed greater cooperation between the solicitors, with less “point-scoring”.
The economic viability of the claim must be considered, given that many organisations fail during a recession. It is usually unwise to bring a claim against an opponent who does not have sufficient funds or insurance.
Your individual solicitor will advise you of any changes to the way that your case is handled.
Coronavirus could have an impact on your job and your income. Whilst the Government has announced plans to make it easier to claim sick pay and benefits, these are likely to be insufficient to cover household expenses.
If you are struggling to meet your financial obligations, we can assist you in dealing with your creditors. Your creditors may agree to freeze interest, take reduced payments or allow you more time to pay during this difficult time. The Financial Conduct Authority has rules and guidelines which lenders are required to follow when their customers are in default or arrears, and we are able to advise you on these and the options which may be available to you.
Whilst these are of course difficult times, there have been countless displays of kindness, of neighbourliness and of cooperation. We have noticed legal representatives cooperating better than ever before and we hope that this continues.
With the very best of wishes.
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