For a field of work ordinarily bound by - and wedded to - precedent, the current landscape for the legal profession in the UK is entirely unprecedented.
With the Government’s instruction to the population being to stay at home so far as is possible, the vast majority of courts are vacating or adjourning several of their hearings, and litigants have either been told that their hearings will not be going ahead, or at the very least, have been strongly discouraged from attending at court in person. A number of court buildings have physically closed their doors to would-be entrants.
The picture that has emerged from around the country include the following developments:
- A swathe of possession-based claims being adjourned until at least May (Manchester) or June/July (Leicester).
- Numerous Small Claims block lists have been vacated, whilst others have been heard by judges by telephone – sometimes, for the very first time in their judicial careers.
- The Ministry of Justice has published a new Protocol Regarding Remote Hearings, which sets out the need to increase rapidly the number of hearings being heard remotely, rather than to cancel every hearing altogether.
- The Lord Chief Justice in his recent guidance stated, “Designated Civil Judges should work with operational staff and listing staff to establish priorities and to consider how hearings can continue to take place as safely as possible.”
- Full-time District Judges are designated as ‘key workers’, such that their children can be sent to school should they require
In a move to embrace remote hearings at a pace heretofore unknown, parties and their representatives have been upholding CPR 1.4(2)(k) – ‘Active case management includes making use of technology’. Many hearings have become ‘remote’ ones, at the court’s direction.
There is an ongoing triaging of hearings, according to priorities; judges are being encouraged to ‘think creatively about solutions to maximise social distancing while allowing as much court business as possible to continue’. Injunctions and other matters deemed to be urgent have taken the highest priority, and a number of hearings deemed to be lower priority have been vacated, to make room for these to be heard.
The current rise in the number of remote hearings demonstrates that parties’ demands for access to justice will be unwavering, in spite of the novel challenges currently faced by the country.
LPC Law continues to accept bookings to provide representation remotely, by telephone and video.