How the Courts are adapting to new circumstances
Since the unexpected arrival of Coronavirus in our society, there have been numerous changes as to how the Justice System now operates in these times.
The Lord Chief Justice stated – “Covid 19 will clearly have an impact on the operation of all Courts in every jurisdiction. It is not realistic to suppose that it will be business as usual in any jurisdiction, but it is of vital importance the administration of justice does not grind to a halt”.
Following this statement the Courts have adapted swiftly in the way that they operate, according to the Lord Chief Justice’s statement. The focus of this information article will be on the civil courts that this firm deals with on behalf of our clients.
Civil Courts hearings during coronavirus pandemic
The Courts have now prioritised Hearings according to which work must be done and work that can be done. These consist of the following:
Work which must be done:
- Emphasis on those hearings with a real time element such as noise nuisance, interference with property, post termination employment restrictions.
- Applications to stay enforcement of any existing possession orders.
- Enforcement work that does not involve bailiffs, such as third party debt orders
- Applications in claims listed for trial within the next three months
- Applications whereby there is a substantial hearing listed within the next month
- All Multi-Track hearings whereby both parties agree it is urgent
- Appeals of any of the above.
Work which can be done:
- Stage 3 assessment of damages
- Applications for summary judgement for a specified sum
- Applications to set aside judgement in default
- Applications for security for costs
- All Small Claims/Fast Track trials where parties agree the matter to be urgent
- Appeals in any of the above
- (Property Courts are operating on a case by case basis and are not considered in this list.)
Ultimately it will be the judge that will decide on whether a hearing will proceed as originally listed, and indeed the method by which this should be conducted. The Coronavirus Act 2020 provides the Courts with more clarity and availability to conduct hearings on a remote basis by video or telephone.
Civil Courts hearing by video
Video hearings are either by Skype for business or the cloud video platform and telephone hearings are conducted by BT Meet Me tele-conferencing; extra lines have been provided to facilitate this. It must be noted that the vast majority of hearings in person will not take place, unless the Court considers this essential, and can ensure the safety of both Court staff and parties attending by the appropriate social distancing.
The fundamental and overriding principle of the Courts, in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules, is that all matters must be dealt with fairly, as quickly as possible and in the interests of open justice.
It is much more difficult to ensure this latter objective with hearings being moved to remote hearings, however the judiciary are now ensuring this objective remains in focus through other means. Such options are now to include transcripts made available to any interested parties, at the judge’s discretion. Copies of audio hearings can also be provided at the discretion of the judge. In some circumstances, if there would have been a public gallery available at a hearing, then a third party may be allowed to join a remote hearing.
Anyone requiring technical support, for adhering to these new changes to remote hearings can contact 0330 808 9405 for further assistance.
In appreciation of increased enquiries, the Courts have altered opening hours to accommodate these, being:
8am – 5pm Monday to Thursday
8am – 4pm Friday
Courts have also consolidated the work to be carried out into fewer buildings for both the protection of Court staff and the parties involved. Some Courts are temporarily closed, others working, but closed to the public, and then those which are open to the public. The latest list of Court availability was published on 20th April 2020 and is available on the HMCTS website.
There are currently at the time of writing, 159 Courts open, 117 Courts staffed, but closed to the public, and 75 Courts closed.
It is extremely important to note that there are various and constant changes happening to the Civil Procedure Rules, in light of Coronavirus. Some of these are briefly stated below:
- A new Practice Direction for the Court to take into account the impact of Covid 19 when considering Applications for extensions of time, provision for parties to agree extensions of time. Extensions have now been extended from 28 days to 56 days.
- A new Practice Direction in regards to the stay of possession proceedings, hearings are now adjourned for 90 days, NB, there are exceptions within the latest Practice Direction released.
- As of 14th April 2020, claims submitted after this date to the Online Civil Money Claims will be subject to a new Practice Direction which expands the power of the individual preferred Court for Directions of future management of the claim. It enables the judiciary at Online Money Claims Centre to consider Directions Questionnaires online.
- New changes to the Statement of Truth came into force on 6th April 2020.