Update on COVID-19’s impact on the court system in England and Wales
BTMK are continuing to provide litigation support throughout this difficult time. However, the courts inevitably are restricted both in terms of holding hearings and dealing with other urgent and non-urgent business. To assist you we have prepared a guide to the current position.
On 19 March 2020 HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) published detailed guidance the Court’s priorities during the Coronavirus outbreak.
The guidance states that:
- HMCTS plans to maintain access to justice and will keep courts open wherever possible. HMCTS has also identified alternative arrangements to maintain essential services, such as remote hearings.
- Courts will remain open (for now) to deal with top priority cases, which in the civil courts are cases such as applications concerning public health legislation or injunction breaches concerning vulnerable people.
- The judiciary will look at each hearing and decide whether the hearing is required to proceed or if it could take place using audio or video technology. Adjournments or paper consideration of procedural matters may be used if these are appropriate.
Judges or Clerks will propose to the parties one of the three below options:
- A remote hearing (more detail below);
- the case will proceed in court with appropriate precautions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 with appropriate social distancing measures put into place;
- that the case will need to be adjourned because a remote hearing is not possible and the length of the hearing combined with the number of parties or overseas parties and/or witnesses makes it undesirable to go ahead with a hearing at the current time.
Any changes to individual hearings will be communicated to those affected usually by email or by phone and HMCTS will keep its online case lists updated.
HMCTS will continue to update page with new guidance as the situation is being monitored closely. Please find updates here:
Guidance for Remote Hearings
On 20 March 2020 protocol was published regarding remote hearings.
Remote hearings will mainly remain public. The audio or video of the hearing may be streamed allowing accredited journalists to log in to the remote hearing.
Methods for remote hearings include (non-exhaustively) BT conference call, Skype for Business, court video link, Microsoft Teams, MeetMe, Zoom and ordinary telephone call. Any communication available to the participants can be considered if appropriate.
During the hearing the clerk and the parties will need to log in or call in good time for the stated start time of the remote hearing. In a Skype, Zoom or BT call, the judge will then be invited by the clerk or court official.
The hearing will be recorded by the Judge’s clerk, a court official or by the judge. The parties are not permitted to record the hearing. Arrangements can be made with privately paid-for transcribers.
All documents to be provided to the court should be in electronic form and provided to the court and all other parties in advance of the hearing. Electronic bundles should only contain documents essential to the remote hearing to prevent large electronic files that are slow to load.
Winding up Petitions
Winding up petitions are now all adjourned as follows:
Numbers 1 to 20 in the Schedule be adjourned to 17th June 2020 (12 weeks) – for a complete list of adjournments please visit the Companies Court Winding Up List on the government website. Permission is given to any party seeking dismissal of a petition before the date of the adjourned hearing to apply on notice to the other party. The application must be supported by evidence stating the reasons for the application. Any such application will be listed in a general dismissal list which will be conducted via video conferencing.
Family Court Hearings
- All Family Court Judges are now working remotely and hearings, where possible are proceeding;
- There are Judges available to attend at Court in Chelmsford and Southend County Courts if required in an emergency;
- no advocates or clients are expected to attend court in person or to meet physically. The court recognises that cases with litigants in person will have particular difficulties but they will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis;
- All of the Judges are now looking at individual cases with hearings and we, as your lawyers, will be notified as to how cases are to be looked at by the Courts;
- one of our senior directors is part of a working group coordinating with the judges and we will be amongst the first to know about changes to practice or procedure;
- Care cases which are trial ready may be able to proceed.
- It is hoped that many more cases can be resolved by consent or by short, focused remote hearings. Remote mediation is already in place with many private mediators and we will be able to assist in this process wherever possible.
- In short, the Court is open and available to deal with work but remotely unless in an exceptional matter which will be carefully considered by the Judges directly.