22
March
2021

One year of COVID-19: How long will we be using coronavirus as an excuse?

Now with some light at the end of the tunnel, I think it is time that people stopped exploiting the pandemic to make excuses.

Daniel Thomas | Partner and Head of Litigation

By Daniel Thomas, Partner and Head of Litigation

This week officially marks one year since our first national lockdown which undoubtedly forced many industries and businesses into new ways of working.

As a result of this, I think everyone would agree that last year there was definitely a new degree of leniency applied throughout the business world. A sense of goodwill and an increased amount of patience between both business to business and business to consumer relationships – whilst both pets and children appeared on board-level Zoom calls.

The pandemic saw the country take a step back and introduce more benevolence to its business operations, and there was an unspoken understanding of the world’s new way of life.

But how long does it need to last?

During the last twelve months, I saw a host of cases delayed and hearings cancelled “due to coronavirus”, and to an extent I understood. It’s no secret that there are thousands of businesses that continue to be impacted by the effects of the pandemic, but I also feel as though COVID-19 has now become the blanket excuse for anything and everything.

So, as we reflect on a year of change, I think we can all admit that we’ve lived through this long enough to have learnt the lessons from these national and local lockdowns, and that some excuses simply shouldn’t stand anymore.

At the start of 2020, as the legal industry caught up with the 21st century and got to grips with video conferencing, “technical problems” in court hearings were excused at the time. However, I’m not convinced that “my mic isn’t working” should be an acceptable excuse to adjourn a hearing anymore, particularly when clients have invested both their time and money for an outcome at an agreed time. Adjourning a court matter could mean waiting months to set a date again and it just isn’t appropriate. Indeed, it’s promising to see that Judges do appear to have much less patience with such matters now.

I, of course, appreciate that rules and restrictions are still ever-changing, and we are all still adapting to the way we work and live. I therefore understand that it’s only reasonable to accept some degree of patience and leniency however, it’s frustrating that some are now taking advantage of that.

Defendants in cases are bound to use excuses and to a degree, this ‘temporary’ legislation has allowed them to do that even more so. But how long is temporary? In hindsight, it could be argued that these emergency measures were short-sighted and didn’t consider how they might be exploited for the long-term as they don’t take into account the other side of the coin.

But now with some light at the end of the tunnel, I think it is time that people stopped exploiting the pandemic to make excuses.

The novelty has worn off

Seeing the genuine impact that this virus has had on people of all walks of life is a sobering reminder of how quickly things can change and how precious our health is. But surely this means that it’s also morally wrong to use COVID-19 as a delay tactic or an excuse as to why something hasn’t happened. And why are we so content to just accept it?

The way the media portray ‘cruel’ government decisions like this one on eviction bans is only making the matter a whole lot worse. These short-term measures put in place to protect tenants who had genuinely been financially impacted by the pandemic, but what about the landlords who still have to pay their mortgage during that time? Who helps them? I have clients who are still waiting on unpaid rent from well before this pandemic even started. Measures like this are only allowing some tenants to take further advantage and there has only recently been a mechanism introduced for landlords to evict on the basis substantial arrears.

I’m not trying to argue that COVID isn’t still massively impacting people and that we should all just keep calm and carry on, because we all know that’s not the case. However, the genuine claims are now being diluted by the false ones and I’m finding myself becoming increasingly doubtful in respect of COVID excuses – like the boy who cried wolf.

For some, coronavirus has become an easy way out of doing anything difficult, but our industry, and many others, have already proved over the last 12 months that deals can still be done, unaffected businesses can continue to operate and from an industry specific point of view, cases can continue to progress.

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I’m sure I’m not the only lawyer who is continuing to experience this either but one whole year into the pandemic, people are still blaming COVID-19 for issues completely unrelated to the impact of the virus.

The unfortunate reality is that some people will have wrongly benefited from the increased leniency that this strange period of time has afforded. While I’m confident that there are many businesses whose futures have been saved thanks to the goodwill of the past few months and the protection afforded to them by the government, it’s time to start calling out those who are simply taking advantage.

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