New Zealand Law Society - Some observations from the legal world during lockdown

Some observations from the legal world during lockdown

“My expectation is that once we are through the challenges that COVID-19 has presented, we will return to justice that is administered predominantly in-person and from courthouses. The courthouses in the cities and towns of New Zealand are and will remain important places of justice for our communities.”

- Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann in a letter to the legal profession on 8 April.

“Presently in this very large courtroom, apart from myself, there are only three members of staff, two lawyers, six members of the media, one member of police, one security officer, and Mr La Fraie, and Messrs Alibi and Fouda from the Linwood and Al Noor mosques – a total of 17 people – all of whom are deliberately spread out and sitting considerable distances apart from each other in this very large space.”

- Justice Mander reflects on the situation produced by COVID-19 at the 26 March hearing where the plea of the Christchurch mosque murderer was changed to guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of committing a terrorist act.

“John Maldjian is an upstanding, law-abiding citizen who even dedicated his Facebook Live performance to our local health care workers. His only intention was to entertain his friends online via Facebook Live.”

- Mitchell Ansell, attorney for New York intellectual property lawyer John Maldjian, who was charged with violation of several ordinances after he violated New York State lockdown laws by performing Pink Floyd songs on his front porch while a group of about 30 people watched from his yard. Police stopped him in the middle of “Wish you were here”.

"One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers. And putting on a beach cover-up won't cover up you're poolside in a bathing suit. So, please, if you don't mind, let's treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not."

- Broward County, Florida circuit judge Dennis Bailey in an open letter to the bar association about the dress worn by some lawyers in Zoom court proceedings.

“We are experiencing an unprecedented event and this creates uncertainty and questions for a lot of people. We hope we can provide answers that alleviate some of these worries for people.”

- Nick Earl, a director of Tauranga firm Lyon O’Neale Arnold, which produced and made available short videos addressing lockdown legal issues.

“For the first time in 25 years of practice I am at the mercy and will of a crippling wifi bandwidth, the never-ending chorus of neighbourhood power tools and a printer/scanner with a mind of its own.”

- Pitt & Moore, Nelson, partner Anissa Bain reflects on the joys of working from home.

“It is amazing how quickly you drop into a new routine. I tend to have a more relaxed start to the day and work slightly shorter hours fitting in a local run. There is no such thing as a weekend anymore so the trade-off is that I will do some work each day.”

- Gerard DeCourcy, partner at Dunedin’s Downie Stewart, finds some positive aspects.

"My experience as a family lawyer is that when there is stress it unfortunately coincides with an increase in family violence so I'm worried there's been less applications filed."

- Erin Ebborn of Ebborn Law is concerned at news of a 49% drop in without notice protection orders during the first week of the Level 4 lockdown.

“He was one of the greats. His country, and the human rights movement, will miss him.”

- Human rights activist Anneke Van Woudenberg tweets on news of the death of Democratic Republic of Congo human rights lawyer Jean-Joseph Mukendi wa Mulumba, 73, from COVID-19 complications.

“A mark must pass several tests before being registered, including whether the term is descriptive or distinctive. Trying to register COVID-19 as a trademark would be equivalent to registering ‘cancer’ or ‘diabetes’.”

- Toronto IP lawyer David Lipkus comments on news that Montreal lawyers Meriem Amir and Giovanni De Sua have filed applications to trademark “COVID-19” and “COVID-19 prevention and cure”.

“Based on the requests that we have so far reviewed, there are hundreds of people – from young lawyers to seniors and their families that were caught off guard by the pandemic and they are going to need our support.”

- Ugandan lawyer Assumpta Kemigisha Ssebunya, one of a group of lawyers who set up an emergency relief fund for colleagues suffering from the country’s lockdown.

“The other major event in recent times that had similar implications was the sequence of Canterbury earthquakes. Experience from that time shows that collegiality and goodwill between parties led to the best outcomes for all concerned until normal business was able to resume. To that end, the Property Law Section asks that practitioners show true consideration to their colleagues, while balancing client interests. The clear message from Prime Minister Jacinda Adern is to ‘be kind’ to one another, and the same applies in our professional dealings during this unprecedented time.”

- Property Law Section chair Duncan Terris recommends that property settlements are deferred until an agreed time in the future, to avoid lengthy arguments and potential litigation.

“Due to COVID-19, anecdotal reports globally have highlighted recent spikes in divorce rates and online search volumes for divorce lawyers. In Australia, we have also started to observe this trend with online searches up 20% this calendar year compared to the same time last year.”

- A statement from ASX-listed Australian Family Lawyers, reporting a rise of over 40% in its earnings in the latest quarter and anticipating a spike in business thanks to COVID-19.

“We’re going to see a huge explosion of litigation related to this. You’ve got some very wealthy, well-established collective action lawyers there who won’t be shy about taking this on.”

- Karl Lindgren of Californian class action specialist Fisher & Phillips believes the largest group of class actions resulting from COVID-19 are likely to come from employees.

"The people who are awaiting trial are presumed to be innocent. So the risk is that people who are in fact innocent feel the pressure to plead guilty just to get it over and done with, because they can't bear waiting and because they may end up being in custody longer waiting than if they just pleaded and got it out of the way."

- Defence Lawyers Association spokesperson Elizabeth Hall expresses concern at an outcome resulting from the suspension of jury trials.

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