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‘Pingdemic’: Criminal bar calls for self-isolation exemption

By Jemma Slingo >>

(5 August 2021)

The criminal bar is pushing for fully vaccinated barristers to be exempt from self-isolating, in a bid to keep court cases on track.

The Criminal Bar Association said it is working with the Bar Council and resident judges to extend the scope of self-isolation exemptions to include ‘double-jabbed, negative-testing barristers’ who are appearing in trials over the next two weeks.

While prison workers are due to be added to the list of exempted sector workers, court professionals are not. It remains the default position that until 16 August all barristers must self-isolate if they are notified by the NHS Covid app or come into close contact with those testing positive for Covid 19.

The Gazette understands that one Crown court trial has been pushed back by almost a year after a lawyer in the case was forced to self-isolate.

In his weekly message to members, CBA chair James Mulholland QC added that he was ‘disappointed that a number of courts have cut back on safety marshals at a time when all courts users would benefit from reminders to maintain social distancing and the proper wearing of face coverings in public spaces as we all attempt to work through case backlogs and reduce the impacts of both infection and enforced isolation through the added burden of a “pingdemic”’.

The Bar Council said that it is monitoring the effect of the pandemic and the NHS app on the courts system. It warned that if the ‘pingdemic’ is interfering with court business, there would need to be an adjustment to the current rules, applying to all court users as opposed to barristers alone.

Last week HM Courts & Tribunal Service raised the possibility of asking judges for proof of vaccination against Covid-19, saying if vaccine passports can be used ‘proportionately and lawfully’ then they will be. However, it said that non-professional court users, such as jurors, ‘almost inevitably’ will not be asked to provide their vaccine status.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)