Mr Justice Snowden, Vice-Chancellor of the County Palatine of Lancaster has send out COVID-19 Update Number 1. The provides a position summary a guide for urgent applications.
“I am extremely grateful for the incredibly hard work of the judges, court staff and practitioners
in the Business and Property Courts (BPCs) in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle in
responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of the BPCs in those centres is to continue to provide a service to court users, having
regard to the overriding importance of keeping everyone as safe as possible. In particular, that
will involve complying with the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations, and
all further applicable government guidance regarding staying at home and physical distancing.
At present, the civil court centres in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester will remain open for
essential face-to-face hearings. The Civil, Family and Tribunal centre in Newcastle will not be
open, but will remain staffed. Wherever possible, however, the BPCs will seek to make
arrangements to hold hearings using technology for remote communication by both judge and
parties. Although this will be a matter for judicial discretion in each case, if it is not possible
to hold hearings remotely, it is highly likely that the hearing will be adjourned.
Given the extraordinary demands upon the limited numbers and resources of judges and court
staff, parties and their professional advisers should not wait for contact from the court as regards
the arrangements for listed hearings. Parties and their professional advisers should co-operate
well in advance of a scheduled hearing to agree a suitable means by which, subject to the court, the hearing can proceed. Those arrangements can then be approved by the court on paper or at
a brief CMC convened for the purpose. Alternatively, the parties should agree the terms on
which the hearing can be adjourned. Some applications may be suitable for determination on
paper and without a hearing pursuant to CPR 23, in which case the court should be notified of
the parties’ view as soon as possible.
If a remote hearing is possible, the parties should discuss and seek to agree a proposal to put to
the court for the logistics of the hearing.
Issues to be addressed will include the preferred manner of remote communication. Although
practitioners and some judges have been active in trialling other systems, and the updated Civil
Court guidance still mentions Zoom, the current instruction from HMCTS is only to use BT
Meet Me for hearings by telephone, and Skype for Business for video-conferencing. Urgent
consideration is, however, being given by HMCTS and the senior judiciary to approving the
use of other systems. I will publicise further guidance as and when it becomes available.
It will also be necessary for the parties to address whether it will be possible for the hearing to
be held in public by giving remote access to the media or members of the public pursuant to the
new PD 51Y, and in any event whether, and by whom, a recording of proceedings will be made
and stored. The parties should also seek to agree and prepare electronic bundles of documents
and authorities which must be strictly limited in size and number to those which are essential
to the issues to be determined.
It is the intention to keep the CE filing system operational in each of the BPC centres, but users
should bear in mind that there may be some delay in processing filed documents and judges
will not have access to unprocessed filings. This is likely to necessitate arrangements being
made for electronic bundles for hearings to be sent directly to the court by email.
It is also the intention that, subject to a system for assessment of urgency and triage, applications
for interim relief which are genuinely urgent but can be heard in court hours will be heard
remotely by judges from each of the four BPC centres. The existing out of hours service will
also continue for those matters which need to be dealt with out of hours.
An Emergency Practice Direction for insolvency matters is in preparation which will seek to
address the issue of CE-filing of Notices of Intention to appoint Administrators and Notices of
Appointment of Administrators. It will also provide a structure for the hearing of winding up
petitions in the forthcoming weeks, subject to local variations. I will be publishing details of
those arrangements as soon as they are to hand, but practitioners should assume that such
insolvency lists will be proceeding by a remote hearing unless notified to the contrary.
I have, for convenience, set out below links to the more important/useful documents which are
relevant to the operation of the BPCs over the next few weeks. I have also attached Guides
setting out how to make Urgent Applications in the BPCs both in court hours and out of hours.
As Practice Directions and guidance are continually appearing and being up-dated, users should
check the judiciary website https://www.judiciary.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-andguidance/ for the current position.
Mr. Justice Snowden
31 March 2020″