‘Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring, don’t panic’

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THE Covid19 lockdown has brought a new set of challenges for individuals and businesses, with all parts of society and the economy feeling the effects, one way or another.

Lockdown has brought many changes, both to the way we all work and do business and, for some, whether or not there is any work or the ability to do business at all.

When faced with these new challenges and extreme unforeseen changes, the iconic words of Lance Corporal Jones, of the 1970s hit comedy Dad’s Army, ‘Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring, don’t panic’ come to mind.

The important thing is not to make a knee-jerk reaction to the new situation and conditions we find ourselves in but to evaluate, research, adapt and be flexible in our approach to these issues and problems and, above all, get good legal and other relevant advice.

It is better to invest in good legal advice and ensure good communication, before making some major change or action, rather than taking legal advice after having put some plan, scheme or change into motion, having found hostility and legal challenges as a result of such a change. Fighting fires after the event is usually more expensive, in legal fees, costs and court fees, than putting into place a reasonable structure based on sound legal advice where all understand and accept the problems, challenges, conditions and changes.

Sometimes the cost of legal advice is a concern, especially when money is an issue. Many legal practices have, in recent years, wanted us to buy into the image of a global brand (seemingly with the associated cost) and have tended to dispense with the image of the staid family lawyer and trusted friend, but perhaps it is that trusted friend that we now need to help guide us through these troubled times.

In relation to legal costs, again it is better to ask and to agree, in advance, a fee structure or a maximum, rather than get a shock later.

For many businesses that cannot access Public Co-funding Schemes, staff costs, working practices and paying rent and other bills is a major problem, destroying profit margins and eating into financial reserves. For some, unless some dramatic change occurs, the business will fail and staff will be made redundant, but how can that be avoided for the benefit of all?

As to staffing levels and pay, the Employment Laws are still fully effective and need to be followed and applied. Any business needing to impose or implement a new business plan, redirection, redeployment or wage reduction (temporary or otherwise) needs to follow Employment Laws and best practice.

A business or employer needs to form a strategy or plan, assess working practices, redeployment, working hours and demand and, above all, apply a consultation process with staff or staff representatives. ‘Communication’ is not just a buzz word, but essential if a breakdown in trust and potential ensuing disputes are to be avoided.

In connection with rents, the Petty Debts Court has imposed a moratorium in relation to court actions for debt, cancellation of leases and eviction. That is not to say actions for debt, cancellation of lease or eviction cannot be issued, but the new Landlord and Tenant Guidelines have been issued and, if a dispute does arise between landlord and tenant, will be taken into consideration by the courts in resolving a subsequent dispute, when the moratorium is lifted.

In approaching the new guidelines, communication is once more fundamental. It is no good sitting back and doing nothing, thinking that all will be well or that rent will automatically be suspended or waived at a later date. It will not. The guidelines are clear that the obligations of both parties remain and are exercisable and due.

Under the guidelines it is only where there is proven ‘hardship’ (in saying this the parties have to act reasonably and one or the other party may be required to provide documentary proof, if requested, with a confidentiality agreement) that, if raised by one party with the other, a request that a payment or obligation concession embodied in a ‘temporary voluntary agreement’ or even the termination of a lease, can be effective.

By way of warning, where there is proven hardship, a party to a lease should not ignore the request of the party in hardship who is seeking some concession or assistance, as this can work against that party if later, in subsequent legal proceedings, the court considers that due consideration to the guidelines were not given. In these circumstances the court may not grant the relief sought or legal costs or other remedy.

Naturally, we do not know how the courts will apply the guidelines in the future, but the implication is that they will favour a party in hardship, as indeed that is one of the main reasons for the guidelines.

Le Gallais and Luce is a long-established legal practice with the ethos of excellence, personal service and approachability, where we have not lost the essential values of the family lawyer and trusted friend.

This article is not intended as legal advice and detailed legal advice is essential as regards the subject matter and personal circumstances. For legal advice contact Advocate C Austin at caustin@lgl.je or Robin Troy rtroy@lgl.je for a consultation (remote-working practices may apply).

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