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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

One of my employees has contracted Covid-19, should I report it under RIDDOR?

You must only make a report under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) when:

  • An unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence
  • A worker has been diagnosed as having COVID 19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease
  • A worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus.
Who is eligible for CBILS?

To be eligible for CBILS, the British Business Bank has confirmed that businesses should be able to answer YES to the following points:

  • Your application must be for business purposes
  • You must be a UK-based SME with an annual turnover of up to £45m. This includes sole traders, freelances, body corporates, limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships. For sole traders to be eligible it is expected that sole traders will need to have a business account with its funders and not be operating via a personal account
  • Your business must generate more than 50% of its turnover from trading activity
  • Your CBILS-backed facility will be used to support primarily trading in the UK
  • You wish to borrow up to a maximum of £5m.

Businesses meeting these criteria from all sectors can apply save for Banks, Building Societies, Insurers and Reinsurers (but not insurance brokers), the public sector including state-funded primary and secondary schools, employer, professional, religious or political membership organisation or trade unions which are not eligible.

Your borrowing proposals must be considered viable by the relevant lender under normal circumstances aside from the Covid-19 outbreak, and the lender believes the provision of finance will enable the business to trade out of any short-to-medium term difficulty. Lending decisions are delegated to the accredited lenders and lenders will need further information to confirm eligibility.

The eligibility criteria for CBILS does not require lenders to take into account other forms of Government support that SME’s may already be benefiting from, most notably business rate relief.

We understand that ownership structure is not taken into account when confirming eligibility and that businesses back by a PE funder or a subsidiary of an overseas entity can be eligible if it meets the other criteria.

An update on eligibility – 3 April 2020

Previously, for facilities above £250,000, the lender must establish a lack or absence of security prior to businesses using the Scheme. The requirement for insufficient collateral has been removed allowing those SMEs who are considered to have sufficient collateral to access the Scheme. We would expect that where security is available, a lender will seek to take security over the relevant assets.

Do I still have to pay business rates?

The Chancellor has announced that all retail and hospitality firms will be exempt from paying business rates for 12 months in a bid to combat the financial damage caused by the outbreak.

This covers pubs, restaurants and shops. After initially covering businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000, this has now been extended to cover firms of any size, “irrespective of rateable value.”

Smaller businesses have also been offered the option of a £25,000 grant to cope with the impact of coronavirus.

Since the announcement, the Government has also introduced a wide-ranging package of targeted measures to provide financial support to businesses during the coronavirus crisis.

What does information and consultation involve?

There are two stages:

  • Stage 1 – The provision of written information to the representatives.
  • Stage 2 – Consultation on the proposed redundancies “with a view to reaching agreement” about certain matters

Stage 1: Provision of information

The first stage in the collective consultation process is to provide the representatives with written information including details of the proposed redundancies (often called a section 188 letter). This information must be given to the appropriate representatives and the time limit before dismissals can take effect does not start to run until they have received it. It is this information which ‘starts the clock’.

It is possible that there will be changes to the proposals during the consultation process: indeed that is part of the reason for the process. The employer’s obligation is not just to provide the appropriate representatives with the relevant information at the start of the process. It is under a continuing obligation to provide them with information in writing about any developments during the consultation process (although later changes do not ‘restart the clock’ before dismissals can take effect).

Stage 2: Consultation on the proposed redundancies “with a view to reaching agreement” about certain matters

The consultation process must include consultation “with a view to reaching agreement with the appropriate representatives” on ways of:

  • Avoiding the dismissals
  • Reducing the number of employees to be dismissed
  • Mitigating the consequences of the dismissals
Which charities will benefit from this funding and when – Key Services?

The Government will allocate £360 million to charities providing key services and supporting vulnerable people during the crisis.  £200 million of this amount will be paid to Hospices UK to be distributed to hospices to help increase capacity and give stability to the sector.  The remaining amount is to be allocated to:

  • St Johns Ambulance to support the NHS
  • victims charities, including domestic abuse, to help with potential increase in demand for charities providing these services
  • charities supporting vulnerable children, so they can continue delivering services on behalf of local authorities;
  • disabled people
  • Citizens Advice Bureau to increase the number of staff providing advice during this difficult time

The Government Departments will identify priority recipients, with the aim that these charities will receive money in the form of a cash grant over the next few weeks and by the end of April to assist in paying amongst other costs April’s wage bill.