COVID-19 UPDATE NUMBER 1
31 March 2020
Position Summary and Guides for Urgent Applications
I am extremely grateful for the incredibly hard work of the judges, court staff and practitioners in the Business and Property Courts (BPCs) in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of the BPCs in those centres is to continue to provide a service to court users, having regard to the overriding importance of keeping everyone as safe as possible. In particular, that will involve complying with the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations, and all further applicable government guidance regarding staying at home and physical distancing.
At present, the civil court centres in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester will remain open for essential face-to-face hearings. The Civil, Family and Tribunal centre in Newcastle will not be open, but will remain staffed. Wherever possible, however, the BPCs will seek to make arrangements to hold hearings using technology for remote communication by both judge and parties. Although this will be a matter for judicial discretion in each case, if it is not possible to hold hearings remotely, it is highly likely that the hearing will be adjourned.
Given the extraordinary demands upon the limited numbers and resources of judges and court staff, parties and their professional advisers should not wait for contact from the court as regards the arrangements for listed hearings. Parties and their professional advisers should co-operate well in advance of a scheduled hearing to agree a suitable means by which, subject to the court, the hearing can proceed. Those arrangements can then be approved by the court on paper or at a brief CMC convened for the purpose. Alternatively, the parties should agree the terms on which the hearing can be adjourned. Some applications may be suitable for determination on paper and without a hearing pursuant to CPR 23, in which case the court should be notified of the parties’ view as soon as possible.
If a remote hearing is possible, the parties should discuss and seek to agree a proposal to put to the court for the logistics of the hearing.
Issues to be addressed will include the preferred manner of remote communication. Although practitioners and some judges have been active in trialling other systems, and the updated Civil Court guidance still mentions Zoom, the current instruction from HMCTS is only to use BT Meet Me for hearings by telephone, and Skype for Business for video-conferencing. Urgent consideration is, however, being given by HMCTS and the senior judiciary to approving the use of other systems. I will publicise further guidance as and when it becomes available.
It will also be necessary for the parties to address whether it will be possible for the hearing to be held in public by giving remote access to the media or members of the public pursuant to the new PD 51Y, and in any event whether, and by whom, a recording of proceedings will be made and stored. The parties should also seek to agree and prepare electronic bundles of documents and authorities which must be strictly limited in size and number to those which are essential to the issues to be determined.
It is the intention to keep the CE filing system operational in each of the BPC centres, but users should bear in mind that there may be some delay in processing filed documents and judges will not have access to unprocessed filings. This is likely to necessitate arrangements being made for electronic bundles for hearings to be sent directly to the court by email.
It is also the intention that, subject to a system for assessment of urgency and triage, applications for interim relief which are genuinely urgent but can be heard in court hours will be heard remotely by judges from each of the four BPC centres. The existing out of hours service will also continue for those matters which need to be dealt with out of hours.
An Emergency Practice Direction for insolvency matters is in preparation which will seek to address the issue of CE-filing of Notices of Intention to appoint Administrators and Notices of Appointment of Administrators. It will also provide a structure for the hearing of winding up petitions in the forthcoming weeks, subject to local variations. I will be publishing details of those arrangements as soon as they are to hand, but practitioners should assume that such insolvency lists will be proceeding by a remote hearing unless notified to the contrary.
I have, for convenience, set out below links to the more important/useful documents which are relevant to the operation of the BPCs over the next few weeks. I have also attached Guides setting out how to make Urgent Applications in the BPCs both in court hours and out of hours.
As Practice Directions and guidance are continually appearing and being up-dated, users should check the judiciary website https://www.judiciary.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-and-guidance/ for the current position.
Mr. Justice Snowden
31 March 2020
EBundling Guide (Author James Turner QC) (Chancery Bar Association)