The civil courts are taking steps to try and allow claims to continue, while reducing the number of workers on the premises to allow for social distancing.
The Ministry for Justice has divided courts into 3 categories – fully open where litigants can attend court; working but not open to the public; and closed. The other courts are picking up the caseload of the closed courts. The list showing court status is here. There is also a list of priority applications, for instance decisions involving children will be dealt with before lower priority matters. The list of priorities is here.
Hearings will not be automatically adjourned if a party cannot attend due to the lockdown. Where a court hearing has already been listed, and where practical, the court will arrange a hearing by telephone or Skype. More information is here. HMCTS figures show that the number of hearings taking place daily by video conference or telephone increased from 250 on 19th March 2020 to 2950 on 6th April 2020. If an application to adjourn is needed, the Court Service has provided brief guidance here.
For new interim applications (not trials), the parties can, as has always been the case, request a telephone hearing when making an application to the court. If done that way, the applicant arranges the conference call through a court-approved service.
The reduction in staff means that a backlog is building up, but the aim is for court processes to continue as normally as possible. Claims can still be issued at court, but the procedures are slower than usual.
The rules restricting extensions of time by agreement between the parties have been relaxed, for instance it is now possible for the parties to agree to extend the time limit for putting in a defence by 56 days, rather than 28 days.
Once judgement has been entered, some enforcement procedures are currently not available. High Court Enforcement Officers and County Court Bailiffs will not visit premises, although they will continue to make contact by other means to seek payment or obtain instalments from debtor. All other forms of enforcement are still available but again given the pressures on the courts both in terms of their workload and court staff absences, we are finding turnaround times are slowly than we would normally expect.
If you would like to speak to someone within our Dispute Resolution team, please contact our offices on 01228 552222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that both telephone and video appointments can be arranged during this period of self-isolation.