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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.