How lockdown affects the courts and litigation

11th May 2020

Despite the general perception that the activities of the country are put on ‘pause’, it does not mean that your legal matter should also be paused.

Our litigators have put together a guide to outline how lockdown affects the courts and litigation proceedings.

We are having to adapt quickly to ensure matters proceed as normally as possible and they aren’t affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the ever-changing Government decisions to curb the spread and risk.

We are also keeping up with any new legislation and procedures implemented by the civil justice system and Government so that our advice is tailored to your matter.

We are aware of the difficulties a large number of our clients are facing both personally and financially.

New rules – how lockdown affects the courts following COVID-19

We look at the below in more detail in our guide, which you can download here:

  • Extensions to court deadlines – the availability of other professionals may mean that there are delays to litigation. For example, experts may not be able to inspect properties and opposition parties may be less available. This provision allows parties to agree extensions to court deadlines for up to 56 days.
  • Online Civil Money Claims (OCMC) – the amendments allow a judge within the OCMC pilot to consider directions questionnaires online and make directions irrespective of the value of the claim. They also remove geographical restrictions on the court’s legal adviser.
  • Court opening times – all hearings should be conducted remotely, using video conference or the telephone. There are only a limited number of courts open to the public, and some that are open but only for administrative staff to work.
  • Issuing claims – it has been possible to issue claims remotely through the Money Claim Online system and through the CE-Filing system for some time. The value of a claim through the Money Claim Online system is however limited to claims with a value of £99,999 or less, and can only be used when the sum of money claimed is specified.
  • Court hearings – the emergency courts scheme provides a list of a limited number of courts that remain open during the lockdown for ‘essential face-to-face hearings’. These courts will support video and telephone hearings and progress cases without hearings.

What you can do

It is not yet known how great an effect COVID-19 will have on litigation or how effective hearings will be when conducted remotely. However, compliance with court directions is still important and missing a court deadline may still have severe consequences for a claim.

Parties should adapt and embrace the use of technology to overcome problems with attendance at court and mediation.

The future

The requirement for the legal profession to quickly adapt and change from traditional practices has been testing. In such difficult times, litigators and clients can take a lot of positive action which will benefit their businesses in the future.  For example, the increased use of video conferencing can cut down travel time and costs, it can also make settlement and meetings more accessible.

In addition, flexible and remote working systems can increase productivity. All these changes will have a positive effect on litigation and may set a precedent for how future hearings and matters are conducted generally.

The net result may be a reduced burden on the Courts, reduced costs of litigation for the parties and a reduction in delays that are caused by the Courts timetabling.

However, where technology cannot compensate for personal attendance delays may be inevitable.  In those circumstances, litigants must attempt to agree extensions of time to court directions at an early stage.

If you have potential litigation, do not let that delay you from getting in touch as limitation periods (the period within which you must bring a claim) still run and may expire.  Early advice may be essential to avoid delays and maximise recovery in your claim.

Download our ‘How lockdown affects the courts’ guide.

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