I have already had to resist opportunistic applications to adjourn for fear of the coronavirus. In jurisdictions which do not require a jury, cases can continue with witnesses giving evidence via modern and widely available technology. In respect of jury trials, new trials lasting three days or fewer are still going ahead.
The current HMCTS guidance on COVID-19 is for the Court to consider video and audio links for witnesses who cannot attend:
The public guidance of the Lord Chief Justice is for cases to go on with the use of technology:
“In all jurisdictions steps are being taken to enable as many hearings as possible to be conducted with some or all of the participants attending by telephone, video-link or online. Many court hearings will be able to continue as normal with appropriate precautions being taken. We must make every effort to maintain a functioning court system in support of the administration of justice and rule of law.”
Internal guidance to the judiciary
The Lord Chief Justice has today instructed the judiciary as follows:
“The rules in both the civil and family courts are flexible enough to enable telephone and video hearings of almost everything. Any legal impediments will be dealt with. HMCTS are working urgently on expanding the availability of technology but in the meantime we have phones, some video facilities and Skype… The default position now in all jurisdictions must be that hearings should be conducted with one, more than one or all participants attending remotely. That will not always be possible. Sensible precautions should be taken when people attend a hearing.”
What you can do
Judges all have access to Skype, so install Skype on your devices and check that it works with your setup: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-telephone-and-video-hearings-during-coronavirus-outbreak
Today, the Bar Council are calling on the government to identify barristers as key workers, and the plan seems to be at present to keep the Courts open. Of course there will be cases where elderly and vulnerable people won’t want to risk coming to Court, but for everyone else, the justice system will continue to operate, in furtherance of the overriding objective and the need for cases to be dealt with expeditiously.
Mostyn J has issued guidance for financial remedies hearings that may become influential in other areas of the law:
- first appointments should wherever possible use the “accelerated” paper only procedure
- parties should be encouraged to conduct FDRs privately, and remotely in solicitors’ offices or barristers’ chambers
- the default position is that hearings should be done by skype
- physical hearings should only take place when it is “absolutely unavoidable”
- physical lodging and handling of documents should be avoided, the use of ebundles should be “virtually mandatory”
What we are doing in chambers
In chambers we are always happy to advise on the legal ramifications of the coronavirus and any other matters. These are the steps we have taken to tackle the impact of the coronavirus:
- Many barristers and staff will be working from home, with a skeleton team at Norwich, Ipswich and Chelmsford.
- We will have full access to our system and emails will be dealt with as usual. Calls to Chambers will be forwarded, but if you can email rather than telephone us (or email and ask us to call you back) it would greatly help us in maintaining the prompt and effective service that you expect from us.
- If you have to provide large sets of instructions or trial bundles in hard copy please email us first and we will be in touch to discuss the most suitable means of delivering them to the barrister concerned. If you do not have the email address of the person you wish to communicate with please use firstname.lastname@example.org
- We encourage the use of telephone conference calls or Skype for conferences for the time being.
- We are already set up for remote working so there is no reason why the provision of written advice or drafting work need be placed on hold and – save for any restrictions imposed by HMCTS – we fully support the use of telephone hearings where practicable.
Rupert Myers< Back to Articles