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Court and tribunal hearings

This content applies to England & Wales

This page explains changes to Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) hearings, adjournments, and access to Legal Aid.

Practical information

At the moment, court and tribunal buildings remain open. Court users are advised to read the NHS information about prevention, treatment, travel and staying at home. Hand sanitisers may now be taken into the court or tribunal building. Duty advice may not be available while the official guidance remains to stay at home.

Information for court and tribunal users on preparation and planning is available on the Ministry of Justice website.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) publishes daily operation summaries with updates about which services are affected.

Suspending all possession proceedings

From 27 March 2020, all possession proceedings under CPR Part 55 have been stayed for 90 days. While claims may be issued, no new possession claims will be processed. The 90 days’ period may be subject to further extensions. Information is available on Gov.uk.

Practice Direction 51Z, as amended, confirms the 90-day stay extends to proceedings to enforce a possession order by a writ or a warrant of possession.

The stay does not apply to:

  • claims for injunctions (injunctive relief)[1]
  • claims against trespassers to which rule 55.6 CPR applies
  • applications for interim possession orders (IPO) against squatters
  • applications for case management directions where the parties are in agreement.

The suspension of housing possession claims protects all tenants and contractual licensees with basic protection, but does not apply to excluded occupiers, including lodgers and those in interim accommodation awaiting a decision on their homeless application, because they are excluded from the right to a court order.

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the 90-day stay is lawful, justified by the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and that since the stay is unconditional and imposed to protect public health and the administration of justice, normal case management reasons would not be sufficient to lift it in an individual case.[2]

See the pages Protection for tenants and Mortgage payment problems for more information about what other measures have been introduced to protect tenants and homeowners during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Telephone and video hearings

Where the suspension of proceedings (see above) does not apply, the current guidance from the Lord Chief Justice states that:

  • an in-person hearing may only take place where it is not possible to conduct a hearing remotely, for example by phone or an on-line video communicator, and it is possible to make suitable arrangements to ensure the participants’ safety
  • when assessing if a telephone or video hearing is appropriate, the judge will consider issues such as the nature of the matters at stake, or problems accessing the technology for participants.

To participate in a telephone or video hearing users will need a phone or computer with internet access, a webcam and microphone.

Guidance on telephone and video hearings during the coronavirus outbreak is available on the HMCTS website. A new Practice Direction 51Y on video and audio hearings has been issued, later amended by the Practice Direction 51ZA to clarify that where a person wishes to listen to or view a recording of a hearing, they may request to do so without having to submit a formal application under CPR.

For general information about court processes and hearings, visit the Courts & legal action section.

During the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible for the court or tribunal to order that a hearing conducted remotely is to be broadcast for the purpose of enabling members of the public to see and hear the proceedings.[3] Where the technology to do so is not available, temporary measures[4] have been introduced to allow each Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal to conduct a remote hearing in private, provided that the tribunal directs for it to be recorded, if practicable to do so. The relevant rules (apart from the Tribunal Procedure (Upper Tribunal) (Lands Chamber) Rules 2010) have been amended to allow for making decisions without a hearing in matters that are urgent, where the hearing is not reasonably practicable, and it is in the interest of justice to do so, even without the parties’ consent.

Extensions and adjournments

In effect from 2 April 2020 to 30 October 2020, the Practice Direction 51ZA confirms that parties can agree on an extension of up to 56 days, so long as it does not put a hearing date at risk. If the parties are seeking an extension of more than 56 days, they must seek permission from the court and the court will have to take into account the impact of the pandemic when considering the application.

Many courts are adjourning hearings that are due to take place. Parties to proceedings will receive notification from the court that the matter has been adjourned. A new date for the hearing or trial will be issued once the matter has been relisted.

If a party in proceedings wishes to apply for an adjournment the associated fee may be waived in line with the government guidance to court staff  on adjourning hearings because of COVID-19. Applications should be made on form N244 and should state the reason for the request, the date the applicant began self-isolation or contracted the virus along with supporting evidence where available. The application should state if a telephone or video hearing is not appropriate, along with reasons.

Where both parties agree on an adjournment, it would likely be granted.

In a recent case, in which the High Court quashed the local authority’s decision to refuse a disabled facilities grant, the Court considered the impact of the pandemic and extended the time limit for the council’s compliance with the order to reconsider its decision from six to ten weeks, due to the restrictions on movement. [5]

Legal aid

Solicitors offices and advice agencies are likely to be temporarily closed to the public. Many solicitors and advisers are working from home. Legal aid contracts state that staff should have access to files and ensure clients know how to contact them. More information is available from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) website.

The Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) has published guidance on the Legal Aid Contract in the context of the LAA guidance. A pdf file 'LAPG - Guidance on what the Legal Aid Contract and LAA COVID-19 Guidance Allows' is available under 'Downloads' on this page.

[1] University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust v MB [2020] EWHC 882 (QB).

[2] Arkin v Marshall [2020] EWCA Civ 620.

[3] See s. 85A Courts Act 2003 and s.29ZA Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, as amended by s.55 and Schedule 25 Coronavirus Act 2020.

[4] rules 5A, 30(3A), 30A Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Social Entitlement Chamber) 2008 SI 2008/2685, as inserted by rule 4 Tribunal Procedure (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020 SI 2020/416; rules 5A, 37(2ZA), 37A Tribunal Procedure (Upper Tribunal) Rules 2008 SI 2008/2698, as inserted by rule 5 Tribunal Procedure (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020 SI 2020/416; rules 6A, 33(2A), 33A Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Property Chamber) Rules 2013 SI 2013/1169, as inserted by rule 9 Tribunal Procedure (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020 SI 2020/416; rules 48(3A), 48A Tribunal Procedure (Upper Tribunal) (Lands Chamber) Rules 2010 SI 2010/2600, as inserted by rule 8 Tribunal Procedure (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020 SI 2020/416.

[5] R (on the application of McKeown) v Islington LBC [2020] EWHC 779 (Admin).

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