The Courts – How have they coped during the pandemic and what to expect if you have a forthcoming hearing or trial

Like every business and industry in the United Kingdom, the Courts have had to adapt and change their working practices in order to keep the public and their staff safe. During lockdown, many hearings were postponed and rescheduled for a later date to give priority to urgent cases.

The Courts have now adapted to the prevailing situation, and are using video conferencing and teleconferences in order to keep cases progressing. Before Covid-19, telephone hearings happened on a regular basis in order to save costs, but the Courts are now also starting to use cloud video platforms in civil and family hearings and trials.

The Civil Procedure Rules have also been updated and a new Practice direction PD51ZA has been implemented. This allows the parties to agree an extension of up to 56 days to undertake a directed task in the progress of the case, without formally notifying the Court, so long as the time extension does not put the hearing date at risk. This Practice Direction was implemented on 2 April 2020 and ceases to have effect on 30 October 2020.

The current practice of the Court, as from 26 March 2020, is to conduct hearings remotely wherever possible. This is to minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19. The method by which all hearings are conducted is a matter for the assigned judge to decide. There is currently a backlog of cases to be heard and it remains to be seen whether the Court Service can quickly address this issue. Repossession cases are currently suspended until 20 September 2020.

Whilst the Court is trying to adapt and work in a way to best progress cases, it is taking somewhat longer than usual to contact and receive correspondence from the Court. However, HMCTS has increased its capacity by creating 10 ‘Nightingale Courts’. These are temporary Courts that will be used to ensure as many hearings as possible can still be conducted. Currently, 6 Nightingale Courts are dealing with civil work from specific Courts. For example, a Nightingale Court in Chichester is helping to deal with matters from Worthing County Court.

Anyone who has an upcoming hearing or trial, should expect that it is going to be conducted by way of either a telephone conference or via the cloud video platform.

If you require further information or assistance with a Court matter, please contact the Dispute Resolution Team at Downs Solicitors.