Information for practitioners in response to COVID-19
13 March 2020
Updated Tuesday 17 March 2020
Important health advice for all Australians
The latest advice from the Australian Government is that from 16 March 2020, events with 500 attendees or more should not proceed until further notice. People who are unwell should not attend public events. It is also advised that practising good hand and respiratory hygiene precautions is the best defence against contracting COVID-19. This guidance may change and members should check regularly for latest updates.
We encourage you to follow good hand and respiratory hygiene habits, as per the Government guidelines:
- cleaning hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs
- covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing
- avoiding unnecessary physical contact, particularly with anyone who has symptoms such as fever, a cough, sore throat, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
QLS events and visiting Law Society House
If you are attending our premises or any of our events over the coming months, we would ask you to put your own (and others) health first and stay at home should you feel unwell with flu-like symptoms. If you have visited any of the high-risk areas (such as China, Iran, South Korea, Italy) or have had close contact with someone who has travelled or transited through these areas in the 14 days prior to planning to visit our office or attend a QLS event, please refrain from attending.
All QLS events will now be ‘hands-free’, meaning that you will be asked to refrain from handshakes while visiting our office or at our events. QLS will be providing extra alcohol-based hand sanitiser stations at our events and in addition to these measures, we ask you to follow the above hygiene procedures while attending the event.
Currently, we are continuing with access to Law Society House and will be assessing our larger events planned for the next few months in the coming week. We will update our members about these events in the coming days. Please note, we will review our position about QLS events in accordance with the health advices from the Australian and Queensland Governments.
Guidance to members concerning management issues that may arise as a consequence of COVID-19
Queensland Law Society recommends to our members that they give consideration to the following issues as they respond to the current, uncertain COVID-19 pandemic.
1. We recommend that you take appropriate measures to protect your staff and people attending your offices, and that if you are a principal in your of law practice, you refer to the useful guidance on infection control measures that have been published by the Australian Government Department of Health and Queensland Health in relation to the interaction between your staff and members of the public. Your plan should identify the risks and outline what is reasonably practical to minimise those risks to your staff and clients.
2. You should ensure that your clients’ interests are protected. The issues that may arise for a practice will vary from firm to firm and will depend to a large extent upon the type of work that you undertake, the client base that you have, the time limits that may attach to the work that you are doing and the interaction that you may have with the various courts and tribunals. These factors will influence any decision to operate your firm remotely and whether your physical office needs to remain open. If your office is to close temporarily, you must inform your clients and advise them how to communicate with staff.
We are also remind you that there is a general obligation to supervise the work being performed by your staff, even when they are working remotely. Matters to be addressed for remote supervision include:
- You should provide for daily contact between the supervisor and the supervised person
- The supervisor must be aware of the work being undertaken
- The supervisor needs to have direction or oversight as to the tasks to be undertaken with respect to the matters that are being attended to by the supervised person for a client
- The supervisor should ensure that they can provide reasonable guidance to the supervised person
- The supervisor should be in a position to satisfy themselves that correspondence and advice is well founded, endorsed, and capable being signed off.
The level of the supervision that will be required will vary depending on the experience, qualifications, type and complexity of the work being undertaken by the supervised person.
3. It is important for you to continue to deliver your services as promptly and diligently as reasonably possible in the circumstances. This means that your obligation of competence requires you to be aware of timeframes and limitations which may exist in a client matter and are required to be fulfilled to protect the clients’ interests.
4. You should ensure that your client base is able to be contacted via telephone or other communications methods so that instructions can be taken and advices provided. This may mean that you need more than one avenue of communication with your client.
Accessing LawCare support services
On Thursday 12 March, following their Pandemic Taskforce meeting, our LawCare provider Converge made the decision that LawCare appointments will move away from face-to-face to phone or teleconferencing via Skype or Zoom from Monday 16 March. This includes any previous scheduled appointments. Individual clients will be contacted directly to advise of this change.
As the COVID-19 situation evolves, we will continue to update the profession with information that will enable the continued management of safe operations.
Fair Work Commission
To minimise the spread of the virus and keep the Commission as operational as possible, please read here the arrangements that will be in place until further notice.
The WorkCover website has up-to-date information on minimising the risk of exposure in the workplace and FAQs for both customers and stakeholders.
Please read here for information of how PEXA is managing the COVID-19 situation for members.
Australia Taxation Office (ATO)
The ATO has announced measures to assist small business.
Lexon released a critical risk alert on Friday 13 March which includes updates relating to the current pandemic. If your practice is insured with Lexon and you are not currently receiving these alerts, email Lexon now to subscribe.
QLS reminds practitioners to take extra precautions regarding cyber safety. Cyber-criminals often exploit disruption and breaks in routine. Take extra care before transferring funds. Confirm transfer details by telephone (do not rely on missed calls and messages) and be aware that there are extra risks with remote working.
For general information, check the QLS Guide to working on the road.
Courts and Tribunals Update – as at 17 March 2020
QLS will endeavour to provide up to date information to members on the evolving COVID-19 situation and the response of the Courts and Tribunals in Queensland. QLS will continue to communicate regularly with the Courts and will update members on any new developments.
We encourage members to also visit the respective Court websites for up to date information. If you have a concern about a particular matter, we encourage you to call the relevant registry.
Supreme, District & Magistrates Courts of Queensland
QLS today (17 March 2020) met with the State Courts and a range of key stakeholders with regard to managing an appropriate response to COVID-19. QLS anticipates providing further clarity to members regarding the State Courts’ proposed approach by the end of this week (20 March 2020).
The Supreme Court has announced on its website as at 16 March 2020 that new jury trials are suspended for the immediate future.
Federal Court of Australia
The Federal Court of Australia will be posting key updates on their website. You can visit their homepage or ‘news and events’ page for further information.
Federal Circuit Court of Australia
The Federal Circuit Court of Australia will be posting key updates on their website. You can visit their homepage or ‘latest news’ page for further information.
Family Court of Australia
The Family Court of Australia will be posting key updates on their website. You can visit their homepage or ‘latest news’ page for further information.
QLS appreciates your understanding and patience as we work with the Courts and relevant stakeholders during this time.