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 Commentary: Covid-19 Frustrating the Law

Commentary: Covid-19 Frustrating the Law

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By Neela Ramsundar

MY job as a lawyer in civil practice is to sort out the problems or situations my client brings to my office.

I may be retained to sue someone for a monetary debt or be asked to change their name via a deed poll. Whatever it is we do for you though, for us lawyers, one of our core values is to be as efficient as we can be to get the job done.

To do this, interaction with the judiciary and various government bodies may be necessary. From my perspective, our attempts at being efficient are however being frustrated in many ways, seemingly due to situations brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Let me share some scenarios so you can understand why delays may not always be your Attorney’s fault.

Probate: Applying for a grant of probate or letters of administration for a deceased person’s estate is done through the Probate Section of the High Court. (This grant is a document from the Probate Registry appointing someone entitled to the position to act for the deceased’s estate. They distribute their assets, pay their debts etc.)

In May this year, the Judiciary changed their rules of procedure (due to the Covid-19 pandemic) which attorneys are required to follow. The new procedures will likely cause a bit of an increase in the expense and time factor calculated into the cost of applying for this grant. For example, filing the application is now a two-stage process instead of one.

Pre-Covid, the application was filed in person at the Probate Registry and took a few hours. Now, its electronically filed first, then the attorney waits for an arbitrary appointment to be emailed to them permitting their clerk to file the papers in-person at the Probate Registry. From what I experienced so far, the delay to file seems to be about two months on average.

Another huge issue is that attorneys have more or less lost the privilege of being able to speak with a human being (face to face or over the telephone) to resolve questionable queries which the Probate Department have a habit of sending out quite often.

AGLA: I am at my wit’s end trying to keep up with the constantly changing Covid-19 procedures to register deeds and obtain certified copies of the same at the Land Registry of the Ministry of the Attorney General’s office (AGLA). Communication of these constantly changing procedures to Attorneys seems to be as rare as water in a desert. Usually, we have to figure things out ourselves.

Pre-Covid, registering a deed and applying for a certified copy (the official photocopy of the deed, prepared by the Land Registry) took about half a day. Returning to collect the certified copy when told to do so take another half day.

Now, we need to check if an appointment is needed or not to register the deed or if walk-ins are permitted. If an appointment is needed, we hope and pray for an early one (within a week).

High Court Matters: The judiciary recently made some changes to its call centre. However, I’ve found that reaching the customer service representatives via telephone to receive information about court matters and even reaching critical personnel such the judicial support officers attached to the judges are more trying than pre-Covid-19. On many occasions, the lines just keep ringing (and I’ve learnt many years ago not to expect any calls to be answered after 11.30 am).

For many of us, attorneys, it’s frustrating because the delivery of quality service to our clients are a fundamental part of what makes our job satisfying to us.

Sadly, we often get saddled entirely with the blame for delay. While we must be honest with our clients and make amends when at fault, I hope I’ve been able to provide a different point of view, so you, our valuable clients, perhaps won’t be so hard on us for matters such as those I mentioned above that are really out of our hands…

Be safe T&T!

Copyright © 2021 Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only and/or contain the opinions and/or thoughts of the writer only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. For legal advice on your specific situation, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly. Liability for any loss or damage of any kind whatsoever allegedly incurred a consequence of relying on content in this article is thus hereby excluded to the fullest extent permitted by law.

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