Guidance note for Liverpool Civil Court
1. This note is provided by way of assistance for practitioners and court users in respect of the listing of civil cases in the light of the removal of most pandemic restrictions in the next few weeks, and as the civil courts move to a position of being fully open. Whilst we are clearly dependent on national guidance particularly in relation to any future recurrence of the pandemic despite the vaccination rollout, and a countrywide policy for all the courts is yet to be formulated in respect of the removal of social distancing, in the interests of providing some degree of certainty, and after consulting civil court users, the practices set out below at paragraph 3 and following are proposed.
(Please note that this guidance does not apply to family listing, or any separate requirements which may be imposed in respect of the hearing of family cases).
2. On the assumption (pending definitive guidance) that the removal of social distancing rules will apply to indoor areas in public buildings) court users are encouraged (but not compelled) to continue the use of masks, particularly in public waiting areas which are significantly populated, and practice good hand hygiene, but in relation to court capacity we expect to be running all our civil courts on the first and third floor. Many more shorter and non-contentious cases will be heard remotely, because this is considered to be an efficient and proportionate way of dealing with such matters, which will inevitably lead to lower footfall.
The present requirement to provide attend the sheets will be dispensed with, effective from 19th July, although court users who are aware of a particularly high attendance or participation in any court hearing from observers or additional witnesses/representatives are encouraged to notify the court in advance, so that suitable arrangements can be made. There may be some staggered admission to the building in exceptional cases, with which court users are expected to cooperate. It will be a matter for individual judges, in cases where significant attendance is expected, to manage the numbers allowed into courtrooms.
3. These listing practices will apply from 19th July onwards. They do not apply to cases in the business and property courts which may be the subject of specific requirements imposed by the specialist judge, HH J Cadwallader, and court users should continue to monitor any special arrangements which may be imposed.
4. District Judge chambers hearings
(a) Non-contentious applications of less than one and a half hours, CCMCs, infant approvals.
The default position will be that these matters will continue to be heard by telephone, utilising BT meet me or one of the acceptable dial in conference facilities.
Face to face hearings may be permitted if good reason is demonstrated, provided that the court is notified in writing (copied in to parties) at least 7 days before any hearing. A formal application is not required.
(b) Stage 3 hearings, Part 8 disposals
The default position will be that these matters will continue to be heard by telephone, utilising BT meet me or one of the acceptable dial in conference facilities. In relation to stage 3 cases parties are reminded of the issued guidance from May 2020 as below, which should be still followed:
“Parties should ensure that they have complied with directions in relation to the provision of any documents electronically. It is also important that telephone numbers of counsel are supplied, although I understand that there is an active WhatsApp group in which most of the barristers who appear in these cases participate, which provides significant assistance.”
5. Costs hearings
Detailed assessments have been working well as telephone hearings, even those which have lasted several hours, and it is the preference of the costs judges that this practice should continue. Accordingly they will be listed in the first instance as telephone hearings, although in cases of some complexity, or where there are multiple parties all it is conceivable that a direction will be given on listing at the direction of the judge for the matter to be attended. Any objection to the mode of listing should be set out in writing (formal application not required) copied to all parties no less than 14 days prior to the costs hearing.
6. Possession hearings
These will all proceed on an attended basis all with hearings listed in accordance with the arrangements set out in the working party guidance (which can be provided upon request), i.e. with an initial review or (R) hearing. It is expected that tenants and those facing eviction will be able to access help and legal assistance at court.
7. Small claims track hearings/trials
Over the past few months, the vast majority of these cases have been heard remotely, by telephone. It is not considered that “one size fits all” and with a return to normal listing, that is with no identifiable backlog, but it is expected that many will continue to be heard in this way, if straightforward issues are identified on triage. However, where parties are unrepresented it is likely that attended or face-to-face hearings will be offered. Again any mode of hearing can be objected to, provided sufficient notice is given, and the court will pay regard to the reasons offered. Because the of the scope of small claims track hearings to accommodate the new whiplash reforms may change, the local judiciary and court managers will continue to review the best method of dealing with these cases depending upon the number that are coming through the system. For now a flexible approach will be taken, incorporating the greater use and recommendation of mediation/early neutral evaluation.
8. Fast track trials
There is no longer any backlog in relation to fast track trials, and it is intended that they will now be listed in accordance with the previous practice, that is within a window provided on the filing of the listing questionnaire. The parties will be notified of the hearing date approximately three weeks in advance. The system of primary and reserve fixtures will be discontinued with effect from 19th July.
The default position for fast track trials is that they will be listed as face to face hearings. The court will accommodate “hybrid hearings” where witnesses difficulties in travelling significant distances (particularly holiday sickness cases) are identified on the understanding that a requirement for such hearings will be notified in the responses to the listing questionnaire.
Remote hearings will be considered if good reason is demonstrated, provided that the court is notified in writing (copied in to parties) at least 7 days before any hearing. A formal application is not required.
9. Multitrack trials
These will be listed within the trial windows fixed at the CCMC in the absence of any application. There is currently no backlog, and trial dates can be expected without any significant waiting time. The default position for multitrack trials will be that they are listed as face-to-face hearings, with accommodation made for hybrid hearings if witness difficulties are identified. It is expected that any issues will be raised at the PTR, although the court will entertain applications made to vary the mode of trial, including requests for remote trials, (by MS teams) no less than 14 days prior to the hearing. Formal application will be expected with supporting evidence. It is unlikely that the mode of trial will be changed unless good reason is demonstrated.
10. Appeal hearings
All appeals have continued to be heard in Liverpool, for the most part, as face-to-face hearings. This includes both renewed oral applications and full hearings. This will be the default position going forward, although if good reason can be shown by parties for a remote hearing (which will usually be by MS teams and not telephone) any request will be considered, provided a notification is given no less than 14 days before the hearing in writing, with all parties required to attend the hearing being copied in. Out of courtesy to respondents who do not usually attend oral renewals, notice should also be given to them of any intention to vary the mode of hearing in case the responding party had wanted to listen in to the case, even if not taking part.
11. Injunctions and committals
The court will in emergency cases consider any application for a without notice injunction by telephone in the first instance, although all return dates will be listed, by default, as face-to-face hearings. All committals will be face-to-face and attended, and in arrest cases heard, as before, in court 13.
12. PTRs before CJs and Recorders
These will continue to be heard by telephone in the absence of a specific direction
13. QB Matters
S9 or High Court Judge Approval hearings which have recently been heard by MS Teams will return to face to face although consideration will be given on formal application to remote hearing if good cause is shown.
This guidance will be subject to review, as and when further direction is provided by the senior judiciary or HMCTS about the full opening of the civil courts. It is hoped that any court user who has concerns over the way in which matters are being listed, in particular with reference to health and safety issues, will bring those concerns to the attention of the court staff, and they will be referred to the court managers and myself for further consideration.
Please also not that the Notice to Civil Court Users (January 2021) from the Operations Manager in relation to security and attendance measures will be updated shortly.
HHJ Graham Wood QC
Designated Civil Judge and Resident Judge Liverpool Civil and Family Court (Vernon Street)