Our President

Our President

Written By: Philip Turton
Edition: April 2021

Dear Colleagues,

This seems a better time to be writing to you than, perhaps, at any other during my presidency.  The sun is out for a start, but more importantly, we seem, finally, to be emerging from lockdown with a realistic hope that we may not return.  There is genuine optimism about and reason to look to the future with fresh heart.  Lockdown forced many lessons upon us and the changes that we have had to make in our professional lives, in some instances, will endure.  But more than anything I hope that we will, in due course, begin to return to the human interaction that is such an important part of our day to day lives.  We are a gregarious and social profession which thrives from contact with people – our clients, Judges, colleagues, opponents.  Whilst the lockdown has demonstrated, amply, that our business can be conducted in difficult and isolated conditions it is not, I would suggest, desirable in any longer term.  Better, carefully, to scrutinise the advantages lockdown has brought and then to consider how best to deploy them post pandemic. 


I have spent some time thinking about this, as have a number of the Nottinghamshire Law Society’s Court User Committees.  For nearly 6 months now, in Nottingham, civil trials and hearings have been conducted remotely in the absence of exceptional circumstances.  This was in accordance with the Lord Chief Justice’s Direction in November, although it has been noticeable that some Courts in other jurisdictions have continued to hold in person trials.  The part that technology has played in this cannot be understated and the Court, and to a lesser degree the professions, followed a steep learning curve in implementing the required technology and then adapting to its uses.  Thus, witnesses and lawyers have been heard through the medium of a computer without, it would appear, a significant dent to the efficacy of Court business nor to confidence in the judicial system.  The clear indication from our local Judges is that, given the investment which has been made in technology, it is not something which the Court Service will abandon.  The virtual hearing is here to stay.  Speaking personally, and up to a point, this is welcome.  It reduces travel, and therefore the time which has to be spent on a case, and, as a result, cost.  It is reasonable to anticipate that many interlocutory hearings, which before lockdown were conducted in person, will now take place over the telephone or video screen.  Given that some High Court lists had already been following such a policy, lockdown has hastened a broader and, I would say, more efficient, spread. 


Trials are a little different.  Whilst cross examination of witnesses can be done through a video screen that does not mean that it should be done in that way.  There is a different dynamic for witnesses in the Court room.  Whilst I am reassured by Judges that a good appraisal of the reliability of a witness can be formed over Teams or the Cloud Video Platform, some nuance is inevitably lost.  In many cases this does not matter, but somewhere there is a cutting edge where it will make the difference to outcome.  For myself, where contentious issues of fact have to be determined, I think it is pretty clear that the real-life Court room remains the best medium. 


That is not necessarily the case for every category of witness however.  In my field, medical experts are routinely relied upon and called to give evidence.  In many instances, this requires them to take time away from hospitals or from their medical work, sometimes to wait whilst other witnesses give evidence in the course of a trial.  Modern management and Court timetabling has helped to a point.  It is possible to see, in the case of an expert witness whose integrity is not questioned, that the giving of evidence by video link is something which might be maintained.  It should certainly assist the expert and, as above, should help to reduce costs.  It may even mean that a medical expert could give evidence from the hospital in which he or she is otherwise working.  It is quite easy to see that this may be preferable for the expert concerned and would have no material effect upon the running of a trial.


The short point perhaps is that we are all waiting to see the normality to which we return. 


Finally, can I draw your attention to the forthcoming AGM for Nottinghamshire Law Society, due to be held on Tuesday 27th April 2021, when the Vice-President of the National Law Society, Lubna Shuja will be our guest.  Lubna, geographically, is a colleague of ours, coming as she does from the West Midlands and specialising in professional discipline and regulation at her firm Legal Swan Solicitors.  She will become the Law Society’s first Asian President when she takes office in October 2022 and we are delighted that she is able to join us and bring us up to date with events at the Law Society and plans for greater engagement with regional Law Societies, such as ours.  One of the important roles that we are able to play at any regional Law Society, but at Nottinghamshire Law Society in particular, it is to maintain the links with the relevant professional bodies, the Law Society in Chancery Lane and for our Barrister members, the Bar Council, so that we maintain communication and contact which can often pass us by as individuals.  I hope you find the updates we are able to provide from our Law Society Council member, Shama Gupta useful and also welcome what Lubna has to say. 


I look forward to seeing you there and to starting out on a new year for Nottinghamshire Law Society and for each of us. 

Best wishes as ever,


Philip Turton

President 2020-2021