Coronavirus and the Courts
In light of the news that the government is advising the public to avoid non-essential contact, and more prohibitive guidance expected, we summarise below the latest advice from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (“HMCTS”) and the impact this may have on the courts of England and Wales.
HMCTS issued guidance on 13 March 2020, with the resounding message being “business as usual”. The courts have of course put in place measures such as revising its security policy to allow court attendees to bring hand sanitizer into court building, however the general business of the courts and tribunals will continue as usual. Any changes or proposed postponements will be communicated to the individuals affected.
We are of course mindful that as the risk of contracting the virus increases, the approach taken by the courts may change. We may see the courts taking more innovative and novel approaches in order to ensure access to justice is maintained. Live litigation has the potential to be drastically impacted with physical presence in court often required. The level of creativity and innovation harboured by those in the UK means that we can be certain that law firms, government and the courts will do their upmost to ensure business is as usual, so far as reasonably possible.
The model used for some civil hearings in the UK allows the use of video and telephone links, though this is generally limited to the preliminary or interim stages of disputes as opposed to trial. As the impact of the pandemic worsens and government guidance becomes more stringent, we may see this become something of the “new normal”. Steps are already in place to facilitate this. An emergency bill is in the process of being approved by parliament, which includes a provision that in several stages of a dispute, video testimony will be allowed in the courts to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus. It is unclear at this stage whether this will extend to trial.
Whilst “trial by text” is something we do not foresee in the UK, the creativity of our Chinese counterparts in China’s Supreme People’s Court, having created a “mobile micro court” app, goes far in demonstrating the options available to us. We are of course mindful that there will be some inevitable disruption to hearings and, in some cases, adjournments.
If you would like some more information in relation to the impact of coronavirus on contentious matters, please do not hesitate to contact our Litigation team.