14 April 2020

Coronavirus: The effect on the Court System

During these unprecedented times amid the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak and subsequent lockdown in the UK, HM Courts and Tribunal Service (‘HMCTS’) have adapted quickly to ensure that the justice system continues to operate effectively.

In summary:

  • Jury trials that are underway will continue, however, no new jury trials will be going ahead for the time being.
  • Crown Courts, Magistrates’ Courts, The High Court and the Court of Appeal are only covering urgent work.
  • Ongoing housing possession action has been suspended.
  • Staff and judges are continuing in their essential work.

Civil Court Listing Priorities

Priority 1 work that must be done includes but is not limited to committals, freezing orders, injunctions, applications in cases listed for trial in the next three months and appeals in all these cases.

Priority 2 work that could be done includes but is not limited to stage 3 assessment of damages, applications to set aside judgment in default, applications for security for costs and all small claim/ fast track trials where parties agree it is urgent.

Practical Impact

The work of HMCTS has been consolidated into fewer buildings. The latest guidance (which can be found here) stipulates that 80 courts will be temporarily closed while 161 priority court and tribunal buildings will remain open for essential face-to-face hearings.

Where courts and tribunals are closed parties will be contacted directly to confirm new hearing arrangements.

A further 125 court and tribunal buildings will remain closed to the public but open to HMCTS staff and the judiciary. These staffed courts support video and telephone hearings and will progress cases without hearings to ensure continued access to justice. HMCTS are publishing daily updates on their website which can be found here

The courts continue to avoid physical hearings and arrange remote hearings wherever possible. Since the new regime has come into force, Spector Constant & Williams have attended a contentious case management hearing via Skype and have acted in successfully defending a client from an injunction application via conference call.

It is noteworthy that stakeholders in the Court service including the Judiciary, solicitors and barristers have adapted so quickly to this new way of dealing with hearings. There is an increasing prospect that this new way of working will continue after we have emerged from the other side of this crisis, encouraging more investment in the technology to allow hearings to be conducted remotely more often with the potential for enhancing the experience for the client and court users.

 
 


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Richard Spector
Richard Spector
Partner
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Aurelia Matonis
Aurelia Matonis
Paralegal
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