In the first of a two part series, Litigation Solicitor Chris Miller looks at how the civil Courts are continuing to operate during the coronavirus pandemic.
The effects of the ongoing coronavirus are being felt in every corner of society, and the Courts and tribunals of the UK are no exception. Although the UK has many different legal jurisdictions, they are all facing similar challenges, a significant one being how to ensure trials and hearings can continue in the age of social distancing.
There was much comment in early March, when the Court of Protection, which deals with decisions on behalf of people who lack mental capacity, held its first multi day final hearing completely via Skype. The hearing, which included witness evidence as well as submissions from barristers, appears to have gone smoothly once the parties adapted to the technology being used.
This move to a virtual Court is likely to become the norm in the weeks and months to come. Whilst social distancing measures are in place, the expectation is that most Courts and tribunals will where possible, hold hearings remotely, either via the telephone or via video conferencing software. Although some or all the participants will be based in different locations, it will be important for the parties to be mindful of their surroundings, and the fact they are in a Court hearing. Specific Courts are also introducing individual protocols for cases in their own Courts, to take into account the requirements of the cases in their particular jurisdiction.
For some cases however, a virtual Court hearing may not be appropriate. There are therefore several Courts that remain open for critical hearings, although measures are being put in place to ensure appropriate social distancing is respected. Other cases, which are neither critical nor suitable for hearing remotely, are likely to be adjourned until much later in the year.
Litigants who have a Court hearing scheduled in the next few months should therefore be prepared to adapt and be flexible in respect of hearing arrangements, which may change at short notice depending on Government and public health advice. However, as the Courts, and those who use them, get used to the new reality, it may be that the solutions now being introduced, if found to be successful, become a more permanent feature of the way civil justice is administered in England and Wales in future.
Next Time: In Part 2, we explore the changes being made to Court procedures to deal with the difficulties caused by the lockdown and the temporary closure of most workplaces.
If you have a Court hearing which is affected by coronavirus, or require advice on a potential dispute, our Litigation Team would be pleased to assist. For more information, or to book our 1 hour fixed fee consultation, please call 01189589711 or e-mail [email protected].
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Chris Miller works alongside Justin Sadler in the Litigation Department on a wide range of civil litigation matters including Debt Collection and possession claims, as well as assisting with contentious probate matters.