Covid-19: Court and tribunal hearings
Changes to Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) hearings, adjournments, and access to Legal Aid during the Covid 19 pandemic.
Court and tribunal buildings during the pandemic
Court and tribunal buildings are open. Visitors could be refused access if they do not have a hearing scheduled.
Court users are advised to read the NHS information about prevention, treatment, travel and staying at home. Hand sanitisers can be taken into the court or tribunal building and lateral flow tests are available for representatives.
Information for court and tribunal users on preparation and planning is available from the Ministry of Justice.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) publishes daily operation summaries with updates about which services are affected.
Coronavirus advice and guidance has been published by Courts and Tribunals Judiciary.
Telephone and video hearings
To participate in a telephone or video hearing users need a phone or computer with internet access, a webcam and microphone.
Guidance on telephone and video hearings during the coronavirus outbreak is available from HMCTS. 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 can request to do so without having to submit a formal application under CPR.
For general information about court processes and hearings, see Process and rules for taking a case to court.
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. Where the technology to do so is not available, temporary measures 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.
The Lord Chief Justice has announced that during a national lockdown, no person will be required to attend an in person hearing unless it is necessary in the interests of justice. This applies 'whether backed by regulations or not'.
Extensions and adjournments
Between 2 April 2020 and 30 October 2020 Practice Direction 51ZA provided 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.
Parties to court 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 case has been relisted.
A party in proceedings can apply for an adjournment because:
they have confirmed or suspected COVID-19
they are self isolating in line with NHS advice
they have childcaring responsibilities related to COVID-19
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 is likely to be granted.
In a one 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. 
Inspections by Tribunals
First-tier and Upper Tribunals can carry out inspections of premises and land as part of their decision-making process.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the following rules have applied:
internal property inspections were suspended from 19 March 2020 for six months
land and building exterior inspections were suspended between March 2020 and 30 June 2020
from 1 July 2020 Tribunals have discretion whether to inspect land and exterior of buildings
Tribunals may rely on photographs and videos instead.
Service of money claims
Where a claim is not received by the other party for reasons related to the Covid-19 pandemic and a judgment by default is granted, it may be possible to ask the court to exercise its discretion to set the judgment aside.
In a case related to damages for data protection breaches, the High Court held that where the claimant’s solicitor had posted particulars of claim to the local authority’s office two days after the official ‘lockdown’ started, it constituted a good reason under CPR 13.3(1) to have the subsequently granted default judgment set aside.
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.
See also the LAPG – Guidance on what the Legal Aid Contract and LAA COVID-19 Guidance Allows from the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG).
Stay on possession proceedings between March and September 2020
Between 27 March 2020 and 20 September 2020 possession proceedings were suspended to protect tenants and homeowners from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
For information on reactivating proceedings from 21 September, see COVID-19: Reactivation of possession proceedings.
On 21 August 2020, the government announced that the stay to possession proceedings under Part 55 would continue until 20 September 2020. On 22 August 2020, rule 55.29 of the Civil Procedure Rules was amended to provide for possession proceedings that started on or before 19 September 2020 to be stayed until 20 September.
Initially, the stay applied from 27 March 2020 until 25 June 2020, and was later extended until 23 August 2020.
The stay applied to:
applications to enforce a possession order by a warrant or a writ
the requirement for the courts to give notices to the parties
time limits for the purpose of any rule
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the stay:
was lawful and justified by the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic
was unconditional and imposed to protect public health and the administration of justice, so normal case management reasons would not be sufficient to lift it in an individual case
applied to appeals up to a final judgment in the Court of Appeal
applied when the original proceedings were not possession-related but later became Part 55 proceedings, for example where a tenant applied for a declaration under Part 7 and the landlord counterclaimed for possession or where in the course of the original proceedings the parties agreed that an order for possession should be made
In a case involving a long running appeal, the stay was lifted using the court's powers in Civil Procedure Rule 3.1 to hand down judgment. The order for possession was stayed until the general stay is lifted. The court did not lift the stay in another case where the appeal hearing had not taken place before the stay was imposed. The court commented that the appeal hearing would not have taken place during the period of the stay if the Court of Appeal ruling in Arkin v Marshall had been available at the time.
The stay did not apply to:
claims outside of Part 55, for example claims for an order for sale
claims for injunctions (injunctive relief)
claims against trespassers to which rule 55.6 CPR applies
applications for interim possession orders against squatters
applications for case management directions where the parties are in agreement
The suspension of housing possession claims protected all tenants and contractual licensees with basic protection, but did 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.
Last updated: 26 March 2021
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.
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.
R (on the application of McKeown) v Islington LBC  EWHC 779 (Admin).
s.21 Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Property Chamber) Rules 2013.
Pilot Practice Direction: Contingency Arrangements in the First-Tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal 19 March 2020, as amended by Pilot Practice Direction: Contingency Arrangements in the First-Tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal - Amendment Relating to Inspections by the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) 23 June 2020; made under s.23 Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.
Stanley v Tower Hamlets LBC  EWHC 1622 (QB).
r. 55.29 Civil Procedure Rules 1998, as amended by r.2(a)-(b) Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 5) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020/889.
Practice Direction 51Z, 27 March 2020, as amended by the 120th Practice Direction, 20 April 2020; Arkin v Marshall  EWCA Civ 620; r. 55.29 Civil Procedure Rules 1998, as amended by r. 2(a)Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 2) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 SI 2020/582.
Arkin v Marshall  EWCA Civ 620.
Hackney LBC v Okoro  EWCA Civ 681.
TFS Stores v The Designer Retail Outlet & BMG (Ashford) Ltd v TFS Stores Ltd  EWCA Civ 833 (note, the appeals concerned tenancies under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954).
Copeland v Bank of Scotland  EWHC 1441 (QB).
Bromford Housing Association v Nightingale and another  EWHC 1532 (QB).
University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust v MB  EWHC 882 (QB).