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Firms across all sectors are facing unprecedented challenge as a result of the spread of COVID-19.
COVID-19 may mean that it isn’t always possible for a party to comply with a deadline imposed upon it by the Court. For example, parties may have to file and serve witness evidence by a certain date, but it may be that the claimant or defendant may be unwell in hospital, or unable to communicate with their solicitor if they are a key worker (i.e. a nurse) and working long hours.
As a result, the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chancellor have signed Practice Direction 51ZA (PD) principally in relation to the extension of time limits during the Coronavirus pandemic, which has been effective since 2 April 2020.
The main changes effected by this PD are:
- Allows the parties to agree an extension up to 56 days without formally notifying the court (rather than the current 28 days), so long as that does not put a hearing date at risk;
- Any extension of more than 56 days needs to be agreed by the court;
- The court is required to take into account the impact of the pandemic in considering such applications, as well as applications for adjournment and relief from sanction;
- The PD also clarifies the audio and video hearing practice direction, by making clear that a person seeking permission to listen to or view a recording of a hearing may do so by request and is not required to make a formal application under the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR
This Practice Direction ceases to have effect on 30th October 2020, but the position will remain under review. In the meantime, it will greatly assist parties in complying with directions and orders, ensuring as much as is possible that draconian measures aren’t taken by the Court, for example, striking out a party’s case or defence.
In addition, we saw an immediate extension to the personal injury protocol which took effect from 24 March, for a minimum of 4 weeks, with a review to take place (see below).
Following that joint review, it has been agreed that the protocol will continue until at least 20 May with a further joint review commencing on 13 May. The protocol that continues in effect is as follows:
- An agreement that all limitation dates in all personal injury cases are frozen and claimants undertake to respond constructively to defendant requests for extension of time to serve a Defence;
- An escalation process whereby any issue arising by a party’s failure to act in accordance with the agreement in 1. above and which cannot immediately be resolved between the parties is referred to an email and/or telephone ‘hotline’ specifically established for this situation; and
- A commitment that the email and telephone hotline will be monitored regularly and referred to senior people within the respective organisations who will be able to make a swift decision as to whether the stance being taken should be adjusted in light of prevailing circumstances.
There is a list of current signatories of the extension to the personal injury protocol, which our firm has signed up to.
Lawyers are having to continuously ensure they are aware of changes to legislation and rules to ensure clients can be advised accordingly, and at Band Hatton Button LLP, we are doing all we can to co-operate with parties and other lawyers, whilst at the same time, acting in the best interests of our clients.
It is always best practice to identify the need for additional time and to ask for an extension of time as soon as possible. It is vitally important therefore to keep all litigation and limitation key dates under review.
If you have any concerns about a matter that you are litigating in person (without lawyers) or a matter that you would like advice on, please do not hesitate to contact a lawyer within the Litigation Team at Band Hatton Button who would be happy to assist.