H.M. RECEIVER GENERAL, CHIEF PLEAS SPEECH 2021
The Court of the Chief Pleas met on 4 October in the traditional start to the legal year. To read the speech made by Megan Pullum, H.M. Receiver General, please click the Read More button.
Mr Bailiff, Your Excellency, distinguished guests, Members of the Court, Ladies and Gentlemen,
2021 has been a remarkable year in terms of legal challenges. Firstly, Brexit continues to demand considerable resources. Following the end of the transition period on 31st December 2021 and the inclusion of the Bailiwick in certain parts of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, a huge amount of legal work is still required, particularly in the Law Officers' Chambers, to ensure that we can align effectively and proportionately with new free trade and WTO commitments.
Secondly, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remain and continue to affect profoundly all of us, especially the way in which we live and work. Not least, the use of technology has transformed legal practice and the manner in which access to justice is achieved.
It is therefore important to acknowledge the work that all Bailiwick lawyers (whether public or private), legal support staff, our judges and jurats have undertaken in ensuring that access to justice has continued throughout the pandemic. By way of brief example, Judges, Jurats, Private lawyers, public prosecutors, litigators, have engaged in remote court hearings, lawyers have completed conveyances, drafted commercial agreements, completed wills, Public law drafting and advisory lawyers, in addition to their day jobs, have drafted, enacted and published, every 30 days and often sooner(!), novel emergency powers regulations (which have also been robustly challenged!) and the list goes on. All in all, a commendable achievement for a small island. These combined efforts have not just maintained access to justice but helped to ensure that our community remains safe.
The pace of accelerated legal change has had other significant consequences;
In May 2020, the UK Lord Chief Justice declared that "there will be no going back to February 2020" for the courts. Courts and lawyers were basically challenged not simply to replace paper with technology - but to review more holistically the delivery of legal services. This approach arguably chimes with the recent publication of the Committee for Home Affairs JUSTICE strategy last year. The JUSTICE strategy aims to ensure that everyone in our society is safe and secure and has their rights protected - how can we help to make it work? With our recent experiences combined with rapid changes in technology, perhaps we might all focus more deeply and meaningfully on what access to justice should mean, if we are to improve our legal system.
We should also take note of UK proposals on restoring democracy and changing the process of judicial review, as well as introducing new plans for immigration and asylum which may have a knock-on effect here. Closer to home the Batonnier is also actively working on potential reforms to the Bar law, in which there has been recent public interest.
Brexit and a pandemic would be hugely significant issues in any legal lifetime, but coming so close together, it is hardly a revelation to realise the practical impacts on legal practitioners. Just a couple of years ago, I was pleased to welcome to Guernsey the Chief Executive of LawCare, a UK mental health charity. Last week, LawCare released the findings of the biggest ever Life in the Law research study across the UK, Republic of Ireland and Channel Islands. Their research found that COVID-19 is stimulating new thoughts about opportunities for positive change in the legal community as well as significant disquiet about the implications for lawyers' mental health: 69% of legal professionals surveyed reported 'experiencing mental ill-health' in the 12 months preceding the survey and legal professionals surveyed were noted to be at 'high risk of burnout, associated with having a high workload, working long hours, and having a psychologically unsafe working environment'.
This is perhaps then, not the best moment to welcome the new aspirants to the Bar this year(!) - although 6 have braved these uncertain times to qualify and many congratulations to all of them - but it is a timely reminder that we live in a constantly changing world -alongside recent technological changes, the culture and practice of law also needs to change. Improving mental wellbeing is not just a catchphrase - it is all of our responsibility, whatever our role and wherever we work.
On a brighter note Sir, COVID-19 has shown, not just that lawyers can be adaptable, but also that remote working is possible even in what is viewed as a traditionally fusty legal sector. This new dynamic may provide a golden opportunity to improve the work/life balance for present and future lawyers.
To close, after such a momentous and demanding legal year, an ancient Celtic blessing seems fitting for us all, especially my fellow Advocates at roll call today - whatever challenges lie ahead of you on your legal pathways, may the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back.
M Pullum QC
HM Receiver General