Will my Court hearing go ahead?
When the UK entered lockdown on 23rd March 2020 the Courts and Tribunals had to act quickly in order to set out how they would operate during these unprecedented times. Guidance was issued on which cases would proceed to hearings and those likely to be adjourned. Although the Courts and Tribunals acted quickly, uncertainty remains in a system which was already busy before lockdown, and is now coping with radical changes forced upon it overnight.
At Blaser Mills Law, we regularly appear before the Courts and Tribunals and have continued to do so during the Covid-19 pandemic. We understand that the pressure of an upcoming Court or Tribunal cases can be overwhelming at the best of times, and will be even more so during these difficult times. To put our client’s minds at rest our lawyers are doing everything they can to keep clients informed on the position of their case.
Below, we share some of our recent experiences with the new systems:
High Court and County Court
The County Court listed telephone hearings long before lockdown started and is a system that has been proven to work well. The Dispute Resolution team led by Alka Kharbanda has had a number of hearings proceed via audio or video link. These have been interim hearings dealing with the management of the case or dealing with a specific application made by a party.
During these hearings, we’ve noticed applications of 2 hours or more are being adjourned, as are trials. We have yet to receive new dates for any adjourned hearings as no doubt the Court staff are busy dealing with the cases actually in the lists.
However, we continue to operate as business as usual if we want to issue a new claim through the money claim online system.
Insolvency and Bankruptcy hearings
The Insolvency and Companies Court anticipate a busy time ahead and have reacted to ensure they are able to meet the increase in Petitions and hearings.
The Temporary Insolvency Practice Direction (TIPD) came in to force on the 6 April and is due to remain in force until the 1 October (unless amended or revoked earlier). It aims to ensure that hearings listed after 21 April will take place “wherever possible”, either via Skype or via BT MeetMe.
Almost all hearings which were listed for hearing before 21 April have been adjourned and will be relisted for a later date, and guidance is given in the TIPD as to how listing will proceed.
Sangita Manek acts for Insolvency Practitioners and deals with Director disqualification, transactions at an undervalue, priority of payment of debts, and all matters to recoup monies for Companies which are in Liquidation or Administration.
Many insolvency matters are on hold which might create opportunities for businesses that were struggling financially before Covid-19, to reorganise themselves and trade out of their financial woes in the extra time they have.
Crown Court and Magistrates Court
All jury trials in the Crown Court have been adjourned as the Defendants charged with offences have the right to be seen, literally rather than virtually, by their peers who will decide their fate.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, our Crime and Regulatory team have successfully dealt with sentencing appeals remotely before a Judge.
The most commonly asked question is whether there is a need to robe up in wig and gown when appearing virtually. So far that has not been required by our Criminal Solicitor Advocate, Dan Martin who has undertaken many virtual Crown Court hearings.
Lucinda Holliday our Head of Family has nothing but praise for Slough and Reading County Court who are dealing with most family and divorce hearings by telephone, with clear instructions being sent out in advance and a draft Order for the parties to endorse agreeing to a remote hearing.
However, this is at odds in other Family Courts where hearings are being adjourned late in the day despite all the parties ready to proceed, the most cited reason being that Judges are not available.
Telephone hearings were in place at the Tribunal before lockdown and are set to continue well post lockdown.
James Simpson, Head of Employment, and his team have been exceptionally busy providing advice on the furlough scheme and as lockdown restrictions are eased or removed, it is anticipated that the advice will move to claims for redundancy or dismissal, particularly for staff who consider they have been unfairly dismissed or who have claims for a failure to consult under the collective consultation requirements. There may also be claims from employees who are vulnerable or protected employees and have concerns about returning to the office without proper safeguards in place.
Adoption and Care hearings
The President of the Family Division gave guidance on the 19th March to clarify when a remote hearing could proceed in sensitive adoption and care hearings. In Re P it was stated the decision rested with the Judge.
That was followed up in the cases of Re A and Re B, where Lady Justice Davies set out the factors to be considered when dealing with remote adoption cases.
This may change as there is an ongoing study with the Bar and Solicitors regarding the impact of telephone and Skype hearings where parents have their children removed without actually being seen by the Judge. Denise Herman and Adam Smith have conducted countless telephone and video hearings during lockdown as this is an area of work where adjournments are a very last resort as safeguarding children is critical.
A review by the Civil Justice Council
The Civil Justice Council has recently commissioned an independent review to gather feedback on how the last six weeks have worked for clients and practitioners. Time will tell whether the pandemic will trigger a wholesale change to the operation of an already overburdened Court and Tribunal system and whether better and increased use of technology is to become not simply an integral part of the justice system, but the only way forward on matters.
This is an overview of our personal experience and does not set out how the Courts and Tribunals might be operating in areas where we do not have listed cases. It is also a snapshot of the guidance issued by the Courts and Tribunals. If you have any questions please contact, Alka Kharbanda on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 020 3814 2020.