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Is the current pandemic an event which will allow me to argue that the lease has been ‘frustrated’?

This is unlikely. Frustration is a doctrine rarely used as a way of getting out of leases. It operates to bring a lease to an early end because of the effect of a supervening event. It is then not a concept readily applicable to a situation where one party is looking to get out of a lease. To be able to argue the doctrine of frustration, you must be able to demonstrate that something unforeseeable has happened that makes it impossible to fulfil the lease and unjust to hold a party to its obligations.

This is not something that can be demonstrated easily.

There was a case in the High Court last year when the doctrine of frustration was looked at in a case involving the European Medical Agency.

The court found that Brexit did not frustrate EMA’s lease. EMA was granted leave to appeal that decision to the Court of Appeal, but unfortunately, the parties settled out of court so the arguments were not tested in the higher court.

Another reason why frustration is likely to fail is an argument that, whilst the current lockdown may force closures to businesses and whilst such closures maybe for a lengthy period, such closures will only be temporary.

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What do we do if we cannot meet the Court directions order / timetable?

An amendment to the Civil Procedure Rules’ Practice Directions has been approved by the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chancellor on 1 April 2020, and is now Practice Direction 51ZA. This has the effect of allowing the parties to extend by prior written agreement up to a maximum of 56 days (rather than the usual 28 days detailed at CPR 3.8(4)) any rule, practice direction or order provided that any extension does not put at risk any hearing date. This Practice Direction will cease to have effect on 30 October 2020.

Additionally each regions’ Designated Civil Judge (DCJ) has issued a Covid-19 Protocol. There are some minor variations between the regions, but overall the guidance is very similar.

In Northumbria, Durham and Teesside the DCJ guidance for multi-track cases provides that “The parties are at liberty to extend, by consent, any step in the timetable up to a maximum of 90 days (as opposed to the present limit of 28 days)” and the Court does not need to be notified if the Trial date is not effected. Where Trial windows are likely to be impacted due to Covid-19 and the parties are in agreement to extending this, a letter can be sent to the Court with a draft order proposing a new timetable, including a new trial window and agreed availability within the trial window.

The same guidance also confirms that an electronic signature on all documents including witness statements and disclosure statements will suffice.

There is a court order in place in relation to access to my child. What should I do?

If there is a court order then this should be complied with, unless you are unable to do so because the parent with whom the child lives is self-isolating, the other parent is self-isolating or the children are showing symptoms of the virus. If you are unable to comply with the court order, the other parent should be notified immediately in writing and proposals put forward for how they can see and speak to their children by telephone, FaceTime, Zoom or some other method.

If any necessary variations to the arrangements cannot be agreed then you should contact us for legal advice.

Should I pay my apprentice to continue training?

Employers should ensure that apprentices are paid at least the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage, National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage (AMW/NLW//NMW) as appropriate (and taking into account the new rates which will take effect from 1 April 2021) for training carried out where their wage received through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme does not cover this.

Are there specific examples given?

The guidance gives numerous examples of the types of performance adjustment which parties should consider. For example this includes:

  • Varying deadlines (e.g. for performance or payment)
  • Varying compensation (e.g. to recognise increased costs)
  • Varying the nature of performance (e.g. allowing substitute goods, allowing pert delivery of services)

The guidance also encourages a reasonable approach to enforcement, which might encourage delaying issuing formal proceedings, increased use of mediation or providing more information to the other party than would be volunteered under normal circumstances.