Guidance from the Courts, remote hearings and the Judiciary regarding COVID-19 pandemic
24th March 2020
Below you will find brief summaries of the guidance that has been published in relation to the protocols to be applied to the civil justice system during the current pandemic.
The Courts will try to use remote systems wherever possible. Where that is not possible and an attendance in person is required the guidance has been summarised below. Links to the full guidance for each protocol is set out at the end of this briefing.
Judiciary of England and Wales – protocol regarding remote hearings
This protocol necessitates the use of remote hearings; including trials, applications and those in which litigants in person are involved during this current pandemic. The key objective is to minimise the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others by not attending the Courts where possible. All hearings undertaken remotely, must still fulfil the purposes of the hearing in accordance with the CPR, bearing in mind that this method may also create further difficulties particularly with technology and so all individuals are to be sympathetic to this.
The key issue that must be addressed before commencing a remote hearing is whether this is to be in public or private; i.e. is this to be recorded, and if it is to be recorded, how will this be done?
The Court, parties and representatives will need to be more proactive in relation to all forthcoming hearings.
All parties are to consider, as far ahead as possible, how hearings should be undertaken.
All short, interlocutory, or non-witness, applications to be heard remotely. Some witness cases may also be suitable. The available methods for remote hearings include BT conference call, Skype for Business, court video link, BT MeetMe, Zoom and ordinary telephone call. The Judge will check with the listing office that suitable facilities are available. Electronic bundles will be desirable in preparation for a remote hearing.
If a remote hearing is not available, the case will proceed in court with appropriate precautions to prevent transmission of COVID-19 as best as possible, or the case will need to be adjourned if this is not appropriate, for example if the length of the hearing and/or number of parties make it undesirable.
Court of Protection
My Justice Hayden has written to inform colleagues that the Court of Protection is working effectively due to the commitment of court staff and they are dealing with matters remotely wherever possible. The objective will be to continue to refine their approach to dealing with the Court’s business and to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible.
If individuals do have attend court, they are to ensure compliance with the following:
- Separation (2m) of people in the queue to get in to the court building;
- Separation (2m) of queue for security;
- Separation (2m) between security guards and people coming in to court;
- Separation (2m) of advocates and all parties in court, at all times. This is to include the waiting area before coming in to court.
As the situation continues to change rapidly, both he and the Senior Judge will be endeavouring to respond to any developments as quickly as possible.
Family Courts and County Courts
Some of the key points in the Guidance for the Family and County Court Judges is summarised as follows (This can be accessed on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website, under announcements):
- Separation (2m) of people in queue to get into the court building, for security and between parties, staff and judges at all times.
- direct access for barristers and solicitors into court building on production of ID card without going through security. This will ease the potential for congestion.
- Security to wear gloves and regularly to clean trays for visitor’s belongings.
- Staggered arrival times for different courts/advocates.
- Sufficient supply of hand wash and paper towels (or automatic hand dryers). This should allow for handwashing roughly every two hours by every person. Judges should allow breaks for this to occur.
- Sufficient arrangements for regular (i.e. every couple of hours) cleaning of all surfaces touched by people using the building: bannisters, doors and door handles, counsel’s bench, conference room furniture etc
- No sharing of documents/ Ipads/ holy books/ oath laminated sheets etc
- At least 2m between everyone in court, counsel, solicitors, witnesses, public at all times. If the public gallery cannot accommodate that, a queuing system will be put in place, assuming no video link available or possible. If it is not possible there will be fewer people in the public gallery.
The links to the guidance are set out below.
For further information, please get in touch.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.