The effect of COVID-19 on global dispute resolution - an update on the English Courts

The effect of COVID-19 on global dispute resolution - an update on the English Courts

The effect of COVID-19 on global dispute resolution - an update on the English Courts

In our article last week, we summarised the responses of the UK courts and international arbitration bodies to COVID-19 as well as looking at the possibility of remote mediations.  One week on, we outline the key updates on the English Courts in this fluid and unprecedented situation.

 

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (“HMCTS”) is continuing to provide daily operational updates as to the functioning of the English Courts.  Recent key updates include the following:

  • The Court of Appeal and High Court continue to be covering “urgent work” only:
    • The Court of Appeal has released a document outlining its urgent business priorities.  “Urgent work” is defined as applications where it is essential in the interests of justice that there be a substantive decision within the next 7 days. 
       
    • The High Court is working to its contingency plan.  This aims to ensure that at any one time during the normal working week, at least one judge from each of the Court’s divisions is available to work remotely on relevant business, including urgent business.  Furthermore, a single duty judge from each of the Queen’s Bench Division, the Family Division and the Chancery Division will be available outside normal working hours for the same purpose, with out of hours provision remaining unchanged.
       
  • The new Practice Direction 51ZA published yesterday, 2 April 2020, allows parties to extend time by written agreement for up to 56 days, rather than the 28 days it was previously.  Further extension requires an application to the Court, which will be considered on paper.  The practice direction states that “in so far as compatible with the proper administration of justice, the court will take into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic when considering applications for the extension of time for compliance with directions, the adjournment of hearings, and applications for relief from sanctions”.
     
  •  Various desks and offices continue to remain closed, including the Fees Office and the Foreign Process Section.  Other services provided at the Royal Courts of Justice are manned by a skeleton staff.  As a result there have been some delays, including for example, to the processing of online filings.
     
  • A revised protocol on remote hearings has been published.  This includes an update that replaces electronic bundles from being provided on a USB stick for the Court’s Electronic Filing system (if available), sent to the court by link to an online data room, or by email.
     
  •  As of 30 March, HMCTS has announced that it is consolidating the work of the courts and tribunals into fewer buildings, with some buildings open to the public, some staffed but closed to the public and some buildings temporarily closed outright. 
     
  • Guidance on security, cleanliness and social distancing has been updated, as well as that on telephone and video hearings
     
  •  Also of use to international litigators may be Remote Courts Worldwide, an online resource established by HMCTS, the UK LawTech Delivery Panel and the Society of Computers and Law, which aims for contributors to share experiences and best practice regarding the development of remote hearings.  Various jurisdictions around the world are covered.

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