Coronavirus key worker testing extended to some lawyers

updated on 15 May 2020

Solicitors and barristers who are considered key workers will be eligible for covid-19 testing, it has been revealed.

Having already prioritised courts and tribunals staff, and the judiciary staff for covid-19 testing, the government has now extended such testing to legal practitioners who are “essential to the running of the justice system”. The list of essential workers and those prioritised for testing applies only to England, according the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

When registering on the testing portal, employers must show that they have essential staff who are working with the Ministry of Justice to keep the justice system functioning.

According to the Law Gazette, Chancery Lane has outlined the solicitors that fall within this category as follows:

  • advocates who are required to appear remotely or in person before a court or tribunal (including prosecutors);
  • duty solicitors (ie, police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals, as well as others working on impending or ongoing court or tribunal hearings;
  • solicitors who are executing wills; and
  • solicitors and barristers who are advising individuals living in institutions or have been deprived of their independence.

The Law Society has confirmed that some solicitors will be considered key workers only for the time they are delivering a particular case – for example, if they need to provide advice or attend a hearing that is urgent (eg, safeguarding children).

Meanwhile, self-employed barristers showing covid-19 symptoms who have been identified as key workers will be supported by the Bar Council, which will act as a ‘quasi-employer’. The Bar Council will enable such barristers to be prioritised for testing under the DHSC employer referral testing scheme.

Under the government’s employer referral portal for covid-19 testing, employers can refer any of their essential workers who cannot work from home and/or are self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms. Others who can be prioritised for testing, include those living with an essential worker, and those showing symptoms – regardless of whether the essential worker has covid-19 symptoms.

Chair of the Bar Council Amanda Pinto QC said: "The Bar Council's purpose is to support barristers and put their interests first, so it is only right that we step in and help in this way. We have been doing all we can to help the profession get through this crisis. Being self-employed brings its own challenges; for testing, you face these challenges without the support of a traditional employer. Now, self-employed barristers won’t have to grapple with the red tape that comes with the DIY testing process. We will take on that burden to make life easier for [] barristers with symptoms. As essential workers, barristers’ health and that of their families is paramount, particularly if we are to keep the justice system up and running.”

As of Tuesday 5 May self-employed barristers could apply for a covid-19 test via the Bar Council website for themselves or on behalf of someone in their household who has symptoms. Barristers can still apply for a test, including home-test kits, directly to the DHSC, while employed barristers should check whether their employer is registered under the referral scheme.