With the COVID-19 pandemic causing significant disruption across the globe and with the UK in shutdown, many in the legal sector anticipated adjournments of most court hearings, especially of major cases and lengthy or complex hearings. However, last week the courts in England and Wales have sent out a clear message that it is to be business as close to usual as is practicable and have insisted that trials will still go ahead.
Although approaches to the coronavirus crisis will vary from court to court, the key theme is that courts are being as flexible as possible and turning to technology. Remote hearings and video conferencing in particular are being adopted to ensure continuity; allowing trials to go ahead in a safe manner without the need for individuals to come into contact.
The Supreme Court announced closure of its physical premises on 23 March and the first Supreme Court case was then conducted entirely by video conferencing – a landmark moment for the judiciary.
In another recent case, it was >reported that a High Court judge dismissed arguments from the parties that there would be too many technical and logistical difficulties to remote working, and said that an optimistic attitude was necessary.
This does not mean to say that the courts are expecting all trials to run smoothly; it is anticipated that there will be times when people involved in the process fall ill and the trial cannot go ahead. However, there is an expectation that trials will still be scheduled to take place as normal where possible.
Interestingly, one area where hearings have been suspended across the board is winding-up and bankruptcy petitions, which have now largely been adjourned until dates in June 2020 and later.
For all other trials and hearings, the message from the courts is clear: those with upcoming trials should not anticipate an adjournment due to the impact of coronavirus. Instead, the courts expect parties to cooperate more than ever to try to keep the wheels of justice moving.
This blog was written by Laurel Sleet and Rebecca Walters.
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