Firstly, all of us at Marlborough Law hope that all our residents have stayed safe and well and the lockdown has not been too arduous. We do live in a beautiful village and indeed part of the country with lovely walks and amazing support from all.
Our first exciting news is that our new offices in Hungerford are now open and fully manned. No more travelling to Marlborough for any Shalbourne residents who need to speak to a solicitor. We are gradually seeing and hearing the High Street come back to live after a very eery April alone in the office.
Although a lot of trades were suspended, and only essential shops journeys allowed the Legal system has not slowed down at all. Our main areas of increased workload have mainly been small business assistance, divorce applications, child contact and tenancy issues, both commercial and residential.
Many local small businesses have had contracts either cancelled, postponed, or not paid for. We have been involved in negotiations before court proceedings to make sure that both parties recognise that the law has not been put on hold and that a contract is a contract and the terms should be complied with. Contracts that need a face to face service have been amended and agreed for the future.
We have also been helping small businesses with negotiations regarding rent payments for commercial or office premises. The government did stipulate that no application for evictions could be made until 1st July 2020 but unfortunately many tenants took that advice to mean they did not have to pay rent for 3 months without prior discussion and agreement. It was important for us to ensure that our business clients were reminded of the legal and statutory obligations and responsibilities to Companies House and their employees. We have also been advising local people on the effects and processes of making staff redundant. There is a procedure to follow when considering making an employee redundant and many small firms fall foul of not doing things in the correct way especially during trying times.
Divorce applications have sadly gone up in the last 3 weeks after the lockdown eased and phones calls could be made without the other party hearing. We have had the good news from Parliament that the No Fault Divorce Bill had its second reading in June and has been passed in the House of Lords. As a non-confrontational family team of solicitors, we totally support this Bill and are happy that we can now conduct divorces without having to blame one of the parties. This will not be in place until early 2021 but that gives the MOJ time to work out the new rules and Family practitioners time to work out the new timescales and procedures.
Child contact issues between separated parents has been particularly difficult to manage during the lockdown with conflicting advice coming from government and social services and health practitioners. The key problem has not been the moving of children between households but who the children are exposed to in both homes. Parents have been very defensive, and battles have ensued. Court hearings have been carried out by telephone which has seemed very strange. DJ’s in Swindon and Reading, where we work, have been conducting Hearings the best way possible given the restraints of technology. I managed to be 30 mins late for a telephone hearing in May because the court telephone system literally rang once then hung up. I just was not quick enough to press the button. Thank fully the Judge in question was extremely lenient.
One good outcome for the court system being done by telephone is the reduction in waiting time for a hearing. There seems to be less inefficient time wasted and certainly focuses the mind at that point. No more having to wait about in old court buildings with no catering facilities. Money claims and enforcement orders are also taking less time – so those of us who believe that if a customer or supplier taking us to court for non-payment of a debt will takes months are very mistaken. The civil court is very aware that non payments and debts can close a business and cause great hardship, so they are prioritising these.
The Legal landscape has definitely changed in the past few months and we do not believe it will be back to normal for several months if there ever was a normal in the Legal world.
Until next month Stay Safe and Stay Legal