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What is happening about court and arbitration hearings?

The courts are seeking to adapt to our new circumstances and have urgently been looking to introduce new ways of working. The courts have been testing out different ways of holding court hearings. The advice is changing almost daily and some courts have been developing local practices. Going forward the court, the parties and their representatives will need to be more proactive about all forthcoming hearings.

Everyone involved in the case is to consider as far ahead as possible how future hearings should best be undertaken and work collaboratively. It will normally be possible for all short, interlocutory, or non-witness, applications to be heard remotely. Some witness cases will also be suitable for remote hearings. The parties just need to ensure that everyone involved can use the technology suggested.

The courts have been looking at and held remote hearings using, non-exhaustively, BT conference call, Skype for Business, court video link, BT MeetMe, Zoom and ordinary telephone call. Bundles for the hearing will be prepared and circulated electronically.

If the hearing cannot be held remotely because the parties do not have the requisite technology or the length of the hearing combined with the number of parties or overseas parties, representatives and/or witnesses make it undesirable to go ahead with a hearing in court at the current time, then it may be that the case will need to be adjourned. We are hearing of trials being adjourned and that they will not be re-listed before at least September.

HMCTS has advised that several priority courts will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic to make sure the justice system continues to operate effectively. It publishes a daily operational update from the courts and they aim to update it by 9am. The link is https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-daily-operational-summary-on-courts-and-tribunals-during-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak.

Also, the courts have circulated a civil listing priority list with Priority 1 listing work which must be done and which includes injunctions, any applications in cases listed for trial in the next three months, any applications where there is a substantial hearing listed in the next month and all Multi Track hearings where parties agree that it is urgent.

In the Priority 2 list, which consists of hearings which could be done, are enforcement of trading contracts, trial involving the survival of a business or the insolvency of an individual, small and fast track trials where the parties say they are urgent, and appeal in these kinds of cases.

Similarly, in arbitration proceedings, the parties and arbitrators are being encouraged to utilise technology to make sure that hearings take place. We have heard of Zoom being used very successfully for multi-party proceedings.

Related FAQs

I lease commercial premises. Can my landlord forfeit my lease?

As part of the Coronavirus Bill there is some good news for tenants in so far as it included the following:

  • All commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland missing rent payments are to benefit from a government ban on forfeiture of their lease.
  • Landlords then will be prevented from terminating leases and “evicting” commercial tenants.
  • The above provisions rules will apply not only to principal rent, but to “any sum a tenant is required to pay”, leaving the burden of supplying services and insuring the premises on landlords. The bill will last until 30 June 2020, with an option for the government to extend this deadline.

Whist this is helpful to any Tenant planning not to pay rent or other payments due under their lease insofar as they will not suffer forfeiture and be evicted, it should be noted that the contractual obligation to continue paying rent and all other costs due under the lease remains and Landlords will still be able to take action to recover any payments due under the lease that are in arrears.

How is the Court of Protection dealing with matters during the Coronavirus pandemic?

The current situation with the coronavirus pandemic has presented obvious challenges to the effective and fair operation of the Court of Protection (COP). Remote access to the COP has therefore become a necessity to ensure that hearings continue to provide proper access to justice. All parties involved in such cases have a responsibility in achieving this primary aim.

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.

What options do I have if my employee, who can work from home, is struggling to do so because they have young children at home who need "teaching" and supervision?

This is likely to be a common situation and employers and employees are going to have to take a pragmatic approach. You could enter into a temporary flexible working arrangement perhaps agreeing to vary working hours/days or reducing targets or agree to use some annual leave.

Employees could ask to take a period of unpaid leave, asserting their right to time off to care for a dependant but the lack of pay is likely to be unappealing.

Alternatively employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities as a result of COVID-19, which includes childcare responsibilities, can be furloughed.

Can I ask furloughed staff to agree to accept less than 80% of their normal pay?

The guidance is clear that furloughed staff must receive no less than 80% of their reference pay (up to the monthly cap of £2500).

Employers cannot enter into any transaction with the worker which reduces the wages below this amount. This includes any administration charge, fees or other costs in connection with the employment.