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Our pandemic legacy

It didn’t take any of us long to realise that practice in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic was going to be quite different to what we were used to.

And having essentially settled into our new routines, perhaps we should all now take a look around to identify what has changed for the better.

Several things that have created greater access to justice come to mind immediately.

The more effective use of technology in the courts – specifically phone or video links – for virtual appearances suggests there would be significant cost and efficiency benefits for all parties if many administrative or procedural matters could continue to be conducted in this way post-COVID-19. This is of particular importance to regional, rural and remote practitioners and clients.

The courts’ use of alternative, electronic means for appearances on shorter directions and interlocutory matters, and the lodging of various forms and documents electronically are further examples of cost saving and time efficiencies that improve access to justice for all concerned.

There is also a promising trial program allowing for electronic filing of a number of probate-related documents.

Additionally, the positive social and safety benefits of using technology such as videoconferencing for domestic violence matters are immediately obvious.

Besides avoiding direct contact, these changes offer convenience, cost savings associated with travel and related expenses, time savings as a result of reducing waiting times in courtrooms and other benefits, some as simple as reducing the need to print documents.

We have also seen procedural changes in Queensland watch houses and in corrective service centres, with the advent of an email service and electronic funds transfer for inmates.

More recently, we have seen emergency legislation that now permits different conferencing arrangements for electronic signing and witnessing using communications technology. The Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response—Wills and Enduring Documents) Regulation 2020 permits electronic signing and virtual witnessing of wills, enduring powers of attorney and advanced health directives. The Society advocated for these measures to assist practitioners in servicing their clients, given the challenges of the COVID-19 confinement, isolation and quarantine restrictions.

Once again there are very strong arguments supporting the need for retention of some, if not all, of these initiatives post-COVID-19, as it would offer an ongoing benefit for those in remote areas, for example, as well as significant cost savings.

Our QLS policy team and the volunteers on many of our QLS committees have been extensively involved in the consultation required for the development of these and other innovative changes, and on behalf of the profession I thank them for their extraordinary efforts over the last nine weeks. The profession and the community have benefitted from this contribution.

With many services moving online, agencies in the justice sphere have had to grow and refine their interactions, and we will be working to ensure that this heightened operational cooperation between all agencies continues into the future.

We would also like to see a continuation of the extraordinary cooperation and consultation that has characterised the work done by government, the courts, justice agencies and the profession during this pandemic.

The willingness of all to engage in meaningful consultation with the aim of progressing the interests of justice and those in the justice system has been outstanding.

In this month’s special COVID-19 feature, Proctor explores the changes we’d like to see retained – a coronavirus legacy for the future of our profession, as it were.

This month there are several more informative articles, including a conversation with the Chief Magistrate on how the Magistrates Court has adapted, a look at digital mediation and the appropriate tools for practitioners, work-from-home protocols for firms and individuals, and more.

Our strategic plan

QLS Council has updated our strategic plan for 2017-21 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, one of the key amendments is modifying our purpose to include supporting our members and the profession to navigate through the challenges of COVID-19.

The current strategic plan runs through to 30 June 2021, so this revision will take us through the last quarter of this financial year and the final year of the QLS four-year strategic plan.

In other Council news, we would like to thank all those who submitted expressions of interest in the Council vacancy. It is anticipated these will be considered at this month’s Council meeting and that Council will announce its new member in the near future.

Luke Murphy is President of Queensland Law Society in 2020.
president@qls.com.au
Twitter: @QLSpresident
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/luke-murphy-5751a012

This story was originally published in Proctor June 2020.

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