What will happen with inquests during the coronavirus outbreak?
The Chief Coroner adopts the approach taken by the Lord Chief Justice in that no physical hearing should take place unless it is urgent and essential business, and it is safe for all involved. If a hearing is to take place, social distancing must be maintained. All hearings that can take place remotely should do so, if it is not possible for social distancing requirements to be met. The expectation is that some hearings will go ahead, most notably Rule 23 hearings. Coroners are reminded that they must however conduct any remote hearings from a court. Decisions as to the most appropriate approach will be left to the senior coroner in that jurisdiction.
As we have already seen, some inquests will be adjourned, most notably those with multiple witnesses and/or a jury.
The guidance stresses the need, when dealing with medical professionals, for coroners to recognise their primary clinical commitments, particularly in these high-pressured times. This could mean avoiding or deferring requests for lengthy reports/ statements and accommodating clinical commitments if clinicians are called as witnesses.
The guidance encourages proactive reviews of outstanding responses to Prevention of Future Death reports and extending timescales for Trusts to respond.
The Cabinet Office has published a helpful Procurement Policy Note (“PPN”) on relief available to suppliers due to Covid-19 (available here). This can include making advance payments to suppliers, if necessary. The PPN sets out actions that public sector bodies should take (until at least 30 June 2020) to ensure continuity of service and to ensure that its suppliers can resume normal contract activity once able to.
The actions public sector bodies should be taking include:
- Informing its suppliers (that they believe are at risk) that they will continue to be paid as normal until the end of June 2020 (even if service delivery is currently interrupted). Risk might include supply chains collapsing and/or significant financial implications for a supplier
- If a contract involves a payment by results mechanism, basing payments on previous months (e.g. the average monthly payment over the previous 3 months), and
- Ensuring that invoices submitted by suppliers are paid immediately to maintain cash flow in the supply chain and help to protect jobs.
If you are a supplier to a public sector body, you must act transparently and on an open-book basis, making cost data available to your public sector clients. You must also continue to pay your employees and subcontractors / suppliers. Suppliers to the public sector must not expect to make profits on any undelivered elements of a contract. The PPN makes clear that, should suppliers be found to be taking undue advantage, or failing to act transparently, a public sector body can take action to recover payments made to that supplier.
The PPN requires public sector bodies to urgently review their contract portfolios and take steps to support suppliers who they believe are “at risk”. However, no definition of “at risk” is given in the document. We would suggest that if you are a supplier and you have yet to hear from a public sector client, you should seek to get in touch with them as soon as possible, particularly if you have concerns about your supply chain, staff retention and/or are experiencing financial difficulties currently. Given the requirement for transparency, you may be required to provide evidence, so it may be helpful to have any relevant documentation ready to send, if necessary, as this may help ensure a decision is made by the public sector client more promptly, particularly as the public sector body may have a number of contracts to consider.
The current situation with the coronavirus pandemic has presented obvious challenges to the effective and fair operation of the Court of Protection (COP). Remote access to the COP has therefore become a necessity to ensure that hearings continue to provide proper access to justice. All parties involved in such cases have a responsibility in achieving this primary aim.
There is not currently a requirement for MHFAs to be DBS checked.
There are four criteria which must be satisfied if an agreement is to be considered exempt:
- It must improve production or distribution, or promoting technical or economic progress – the guidance suggests that cooperation ensuring essential goods and services can be made available to the public, or an important sub-set of the public such as key workers, will satisfy this criterion.
- It must allow consumers a fair share of the resulting benefit – the guidance suggests this will be the case where the action prevents or reduces shortages.
- It must not impose on the undertakings concerned restrictions which are not indispensable to the attainment of the above benefits – the guidance suggests this will be the case where the cooperation is the only reasonable option due to the urgency of the crisis and where the cooperation is temporary in nature.
- It must not afford the undertakings concerned the possibility of eliminating competition – therefore the parties must endeavour to retain competition in respect of the products (in particular price competition).
Those individuals who are already exempt from the existing face covering obligations, will continue to be exempt from the new rules. These include:
- Those unable to put on or wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or disability
- People for whom wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress
- Anyone assisting someone who relies on lip reading to communicate