Good news is on the horizon for the legal profession amidst the COVID-19 crisis, with the Inner House of the Court of Session set to re-commence the Appeals Court as of 21 April 2020.
This will see the Inner House take the form of a 'virtual court', operating a three-judge bench, counsel, instructing solicitors and access for the media and interested parties, all online.
Outer House business will follow, and several new measures are being piloted in Sheriff Court criminal matters with civil practitioners already adapting to electronic documents and signatures albeit only for urgent business at present.
The New Normal
Most lawyers find themselves working from home, and it wouldn't be too surprising if, on occasion, their daily uniform tends more toward dressing gown than court gown.
We are well acquainted with video conferencing, it has become the new 'going for a coffee' over the COVID-19 lockdown. Video conferencing apps such as Zoom and Teams have been integral to keeping in contact with clients and colleagues, although, concerns have been expressed about security and the possibility of confidential information being shared unintentionally over some platforms.
One drawback in retreating from our office setting is, it can be difficult to decide on an appropriate dress code for an online meeting when all parties are known to be working from home. Some take a more formal approach, while others do not and it can be difficult to strike a balance.
Inevitably, 'virtual courts' will become more commonplace and there will be dress code hiccups. Some jurisdictions have felt the need to publish guidance on what is 'appropriate' dress for a Court Hearing. Needless to say; your dressing gown is not considered to be so, swim wear even less.
As discussed previously by my colleague Fiona Chute in her blog, formal court dress (such as wigs and gowns) is no longer required in the Court of Session except during hearings which involve witnesses giving evidence. Glasgow Sheriff Court followed suit earlier this year
Some voiced concerns that this move stripped away the uniform, the armour in which Solicitors and Advocates clothe themselves. The move to 'virtual courts' and conferencing, might spell the end for formal court dress.
Until recently a solicitor in the sheriff court has been easy to identify, usually in business dress, with a gown and carrying papers. On a video call with multiple participants this may be more of a challenge. Maybe a new visual identifier to replace gowns and wigs is going to be needed to allow the Court and observers to differentiate lawyers, clients and the judiciary and help cases progress more easily.
Or perhaps a marriage of the old and the new may be the way forward, old fashioned gowns and modern 'virtual courts', might combine to help solicitors get used to the new normal.