Update as at 23 March 2020
With immediate effect, all claims in the First-Tier Property Tribunal have been effectively suspended until 29 May 2020. This affects residential property claims such as service charge disputes or other leasehold covenant disputes. All hearings or mediations are postponed until after 29 May 2020; all directions are suspended until after 29 May 2020 unless the parties can cooperate to comply in the meantime.
Individual county courts continue to give guidance on hearings independently of one another. The trend appears to be last-minute adjournments of hearings. As explained in our note on 18 March 2020 (see below), the senior judiciary have given guidance that hearings should be conducted by telephone or teleconferencing but this does not appear to have filtered down to the lower courts as yet. We strongly recommend getting in contact with an individual court if you have a hearing listed in the coming weeks.
The Supreme Court has ceased sitting and is “temporarily closed”. The Court of Appeal appears to be running a daily list, though it is unclear how long this will continue for.
The criminal courts are also beginning to move towards adjourning hearings. Guidance on 23 March 2020 states that all new trials will be postponed “for a short time” to allow the courts to work out how to manage current trials. Juries are increasingly making known their concern in the press at being asked to attend court in person. It remains to be seen how this will be manged over the coming weeks.
We continue to await formal guidance as to emergency changes to the Civil Procedure Rules governing the courts. As at last week, the Senior Presiding Judge was in discussion with the government to move emergency legislation to amend these rules.
18th March update
Much like the wider situation, the current and expected activity of the courts and Tribunals is subject to change. The trend appears to be that courts and Tribunals are making decisions on an individual basis at present with guidance from the Senior Presiding Judge imminent. As at 4.30pm today (18 March 2020), the Senior Presiding Judge confirmed that administrative instructions are being agreed and the Judicial Office is agreeing emergency changes to the legislative rules governing civil litigation.
If you have any proceedings or applications that need to be made, we recommend speaking to the court clerks before doing so. We will be doing so where dealing with issuing proceedings or applications. Please let us know if you would like assistance with this.
The Property Tribunal (First Tier and Upper Tier), which deals with long leasehold residential disputes such as service charges, enfranchisement and breach of covenant, has today confirmed that hearings and mediations listed from Monday 23 March for 3 weeks may be postponed. The judge in charge will decide whether this is the case, with the presuming in favour of postponement. If so, the parties should be given the choice as to whether the case is dealt with on papers only or is relisted for a hearing after the end of June 2020. Urgent cases might be heard in person before the end of June 2020, or by teleconferences. Cases ordinarily dealt with by telephone or on the papers will continue as normal as long as there is sufficient judicial and administrative resource available.
The Lord Chancellor confirmed today that Crown Courts are not taking any new trials which are set to last longer than 3 days. Our contacts inform us that duty solicitors are still attending the Crown Courts and are still taking instructions and representing parties. It is expected that three quarters of Crown Court trials will continue without restriction, though the guidance is subject to change.
In the civil courts, our experience is that Judges and clerks are working today and imminent hearings have not been adjourned. The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court appear to be operating as normal and are both running hearings today. Similarly, duty housing solicitors have been told to attend courts to represent clients in the possession claim lists.
Likewise, we are aware that today, Hertfordshire County Court has vacated all hearings for non-urgent civil and family matters. Public law cases are to be dealt with by telephone.