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Court proceedings haven’t yet been issued – what should I do?

Parties still need to comply with the various Protocols that apply and will be expected to exchange information in the usual way. Court proceedings can be issued electronically.

Related FAQs

What are the existing legal obligations to conduct a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk for a workforce, and where particular characteristics require it, for individuals?

It is the individual assessment by an organisation of its Covid-19 risk in its workplace that will be central. There may be common features across sites or areas of a site but every workplace will have a different risk profile depending on the service it offers and the workers who deliver those services.  No one size fits all.

The context of managing Covid-19 risk is the need to tie in with UK government guidance and HSE advice – which despite being a lot more comprehensive than it was, is not a panacea and will continue to evolve.  The difficulty we have with this in the context of the known increased risk to BAME employees from Covid-19 is that our understanding of the risk is, we would suggest, at a pretty early stage which makes it more difficult to address. However we know the increased risk exists and we owe our BAME workers a duty to manage that risk and keep them safe.

We also have a duty to consult employees.  This is critical in managing this risk – ensuring BAME workers have a loud voice in the assessment process will be very important.

Where an individual has a particular characteristic, for instance they’re pregnant, they have physical or mental disabilities etc, the law requires us to look at that individual or, where it is a group, that group of individuals and assess the risk to them and take any reasonably practicable steps to control the risk to them.

Risk control hierarchy is key. In “normal” businesses we reduce our Covid-19 risk by keeping people away from the workplace – “avoid, eliminate and substitute” then changing work practices (e.g. social distancing measures) before we arrive at PPE. In a healthcare context, we arrive at PPE a lot more quickly.

We need to ensure our people are given sufficient information, instruction and training so they can do their jobs safely and we must consult workers and involve them in workplace safety – this is going to be critical in the context of Covid-19.

Can construction work be undertaken outside of any permitted hours to make up for site closures?

Many planning permissions contain a condition restricting the hours within which a developer can carry out construction work or are subject to an approved construction management plan setting out the permitted construction hours.

The Business and Planning Act 2020 entered the statute books on 22 July 2020. Section 16 of the Act incorporates a new S.74B into the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The effect is that any condition/approved document which limits construction hours on a site could be amended through an application to the local planning authority. The application to the local planning authority must set out the date on which the proposed extension to construction hours shall cease (such date being no later than 1 April 2021, after which the original conditions over construction hours will resume). The local planning authority must determine the application within 14 days (beginning with the day after the application was submitted) otherwise there is deemed approval.

New guidance has been published alongside the Act and is available here

What will happen with inquests during the coronavirus outbreak?

The Chief Coroner adopts the approach taken by the Lord Chief Justice in that no physical hearing should take place unless it is urgent and essential business, and it is safe for all involved. If a hearing is to take place, social distancing must be maintained. All hearings that can take place remotely should do so, if it is not possible for social distancing requirements to be met. The expectation is that some hearings will go ahead, most notably Rule 23 hearings. Coroners are reminded that they must however conduct any remote hearings from a court. Decisions as to the most appropriate approach will be left to the senior coroner in that jurisdiction.

As we have already seen, some inquests will be adjourned, most notably those with multiple witnesses and/or a jury.

The guidance stresses the need, when dealing with medical professionals, for coroners to recognise their primary clinical commitments, particularly in these high-pressured times. This could mean avoiding or deferring requests for lengthy reports/ statements and accommodating clinical commitments if clinicians are called as witnesses.

The guidance encourages proactive reviews of outstanding responses to Prevention of Future Death reports and extending timescales for Trusts to respond.

Can I still progress with stopping up applications?

We are working with many of our clients to progress with stopping up applications in order to divert/stop up highways and public rights of way affecting development sites. Due to lockdown restrictions the Department for Transport stalled the progress of applications because they were unable to comply with the statutory publicity requirements. We have very recently been contacted by the Department for Transport casework team who have confirmed that the stopping up/diversion applications can now be progressed. We are aware that Councils across the country are also now progressing with applications. Please contact us if you require any advice/assistance in respect of your application.

What should businesses do now?

Many will have worked collaboratively with their suppliers and customers to deal with the immediate public health crisis. This will have meant offering flexibility as to contractual arrangements, whether in delivery dates, volumes of goods or services supplied, or even in the specification of what has been delivered.

If this is the case, it is important that businesses now do their legal housekeeping and make sure they have a proper record of what has been agreed. Unfortunately, our experience shows that many legal disputes arise out of amendments to contracts, typically where the parties to the contract each have a different view about what exactly they agreed to change.

We would therefore advise businesses to review any amendments that they might have agreed either verbally, by email, or otherwise, and consider whether they need to be captured in a more formal way which will make clear exactly what has been agreed to be varied, and (where appropriate) how long that variation will remain in force.

It’s also important to remember that some contracts contain provisions that set out specific requirements about how amendments are to be made. For example, they might require that amendments are made in writing (rather than verbally). These “No Oral Modification” clauses are commonly found in commercial contracts, and the courts have recently shown that they are willing to enforce them.

Failing to deal with amendments in accordance with contractual requirements could therefore have a serious impact on businesses as they recover from the disruption caused by the lockdown. If they end up in dispute with a customer or supplier, a business could find that the contract has not actually been amended in the way that they think – potentially leading to legal costs and liabilities at the worst possible time.