Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) recognise that during this public health emergency our primary focus should, of course, be on the health and wellbeing of the nation. However, the Lord Chief Justice has made it clear that it is essential that justice continues to be administered.
Arrangements have been in place pre-COVID-19 for hearings to be conducted remotely via telephone and video conferencing facilities. HMCTS are committed to ensuring that conferencing equipment is used to conduct remote hearings wherever possible. The Coronavirus Act 2020 has expanded the availability of video and audio links in court proceedings. There are, of course, exceptions as not every hearing is suitable to such arrangements, the most obvious being jury trials. Where physical trials are to take place, the Lord Chief Justice has confirmed that they are to take place safely and in accordance with the Government’s advice on social distancing.
The Lord Chief Justice has made it clear that parties should not simply be adjourning upcoming hearings as this would contribute to “inevitable backlogs and delays” in the system. Judges are unlikely to be sympathetic to adjournment requests simply on the basis that video hearings are difficult to administer. Parties have a duty to seek to co-operate and facilitate the process of remote justice being administered effectively and to keep costs proportionate. Where remote hearings are not required, for example for the determination of a procedural point, it may be that the judiciary are able to determine such issues on the papers.
HMCTS provides a daily operational summary on courts and tribunals during the COVID-19 outbreak and we recommend that this page is checked regularly for developments.
If you would like guidance or further explanation on the impact that COVID-19 may have on upcoming litigation that you are a party to please do not hesitate to contact Michael Shapiro on [email protected] or 0207 822 2246 or Sana Sheikh on [email protected] or 0207 822 2214.
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