The impact of Covid-19 on the civil courts16 Apr, 2020 - Other | by Grosvenor Law
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Businesses and services have been severely disrupted by the crisis, and the civil courts of England and Wales are no different.
However, access to justice is a fundamental cornerstone of society and the Court & Tribunals Service has moved quickly to ensure that much of the invaluable work of the courts continues.
Work on most civil litigation continues
The courts are using technology wherever possible to ensure that claims can continue to be issued, case timetables are maintained and hearings can, where possible, take place remotely. Cases have been prioritised to enable parties that require urgent relief (for example, those applying for injunctions, committals, enforcement proceedings and appeals) to obtain these in priority to less urgent hearings. Where possible, upcoming hearings and trials have not been adjourned to a date when the physical courts re-open, but have or will proceed by way of remote hearings, electronic bundles, and other technological solutions. The work of the courts’ clerking and administrative staff has also been relatively unaffected.
Solicitors and barristers have been able to adapt well to these changes and have embraced the need for the work of the courts to continue, even if it means conducting advocacy by video conference. Grosvenor Law for example continues to operate as normal, and restrictions on travel and movement do not affect the service we provide.
Many courts remain open either for urgent hearings that cannot take place remotely, or solely for administrative staff to continue their work. Court staff and judges are also working from home and work practices appear to have been streamlined to ensure that a backlog of cases does not build up.
Telephone conferencing, Skype for Business and other video-conferencing platforms are being adopted by the courts to ensure that hearings and even full trials are maintained, with accommodations made for security, and for members of the public and press to attend hearings (in line with the principle of open justice). The courts are also accepting filing of documents (including entire trial bundles) in electronic copy only. Inevitably, there will be some disruption, including adjournments to hearings and other delays but all things considered, the courts seem to be coping well with the profound challenges that Covid-19 has posed.
Practitioners too have been forced to adapt. Traditionally, solicitors have been slow to accept service of documents other than by post or by hand. However, the enforced closure of solicitors’ offices has meant that service of documents by email has, almost universally, been adopted.
When the Covid-19 pandemic is over the legal profession, like all other sectors, will eventually return to something resembling normality. However, it is inevitable that some of the forced changes to working practices, such as embracing technologies and remote working will be here to stay. In the long term, this global crisis will accelerate the adoption of efficient modern practices. We may even see a scenario where cases can be brought or defended more quickly and at relatively less cost than under the previous regime. One good thing that may emerge is that both the courts and practitioners will be better placed to carry out the vital work of giving the public access to justice.
Ben Wolfe is a managing associate at Grosvenor Law often advises on complex, large-scale commercial disputes
The contents of our blog posts do not constitute legal advice and are provided for general information purposes only