Over the past three months lawyers, and the courts, have been dealing with the impact of coronavirus. This is an appropriate time to set out the key judgments where coronavirus has had an impact on both procedural and substantive law. Here are summaries of (and links to) the cases where the impact of COVID is considered. *
In a complex personal injury case the Master granted the claimant’s request that the parties be allowed to agree extensions of time for up to 56 days by consent without further order.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith gave judgment in one of the first hearings that were conducted remotely.
The judge was considering an application for permission to appeal. The appellant could not attend court because of coronavirus, nor could she attend remotely. The submissions were made by email.
The first virtual trial in the Commercial Court.
A remote hearing in the Court of Protection with 17 participants, 11 witnesses and two journalists. There was an issue with some of the recording files which became corrupted by virtue of their size.
Mr Justice Zacaroli heard an application for committal by telephone in order to secure the administration of justice in compliance with Practice Direction 51Y.
Mr Justice Chamberlain heard an appeal against a Disciplinary hearing. One side attended by Skype, the other by phone. Both were able to make full oral submissions in the usual way.
The judgment was given after the claimant did not attend the hearing because of the coronavirus crisis. It also shows a consultation by “social media”.
The Court of Appeal heard an appeal and gave judgment by videoconferencing, pursuant to Practice Direction 51Y.
A remote divorce hearing went ahead due to the pandemic. The judge informed the parties that other parties could be present and on a couple of occasions the respondent required technical assistance which demonstrated the benefit of having a ‘MacMicro’ friend in easy reach.
An application to adjourn a trial made on the basis of the difficulties caused by coronavirus was refused. The judgment contains a detailed consideration of the provisions of the Coronavirus Act and regulations and concludes that there are strong arguments that, so far as is possible and is safe, proceedings, including lengthy civil trials, should continue.
Mr Justice Fordham explained the steps taken by the court meant that a hearing held where the parties attended by telephone complied with the open justice principle.
Mr Justice Chamberlain held that the applicant’s health condition, current prison conditions and coronavirus were relevant factors in the early discharge of someone imprisoned for contempt of court.
The Court heard an appeal remotely relating to the amount payable for the right to use part of a pipeline. It was undertaken in an attempt to demonstrate the flexibility of the arrangements that can be made.
This case demonstrates the general approach of the court to marrying pre-existing legislation to (largely unpublished and incomplete) Coronavirus regulations.
Damiel Alexander QC (sitting as a High Court judge) considered issues relating to timetabling and the problems caused by coronavirus. The problems caused to a party by coronavirus did not justify a postponement of a trial but did justify a slight adjustment of the trial date and trial process.
HHJ Eyre QC allowed the defendants extra time to serve evidence because of the coronavirus crisis and a hearing date was put back. There is an interesting discussion of the relevant principles the courts consider when considering applications arising from problems caused by COVID-19.
This was a family case listed for a 15 day hearing to start on the 20th April. The main issue was whether the matter was suitable for a remote hearing and it was found not to be.
The applicants sought to restrain the presentation of two winding up petitions by the respondent councils. One of the grounds of arguments related to Covid-19. Mr Justice Snowden did not accept that COVID-19 and prospective legislation by the government in relation to insolvency was a good reason to restrain winding up petitions.
The Court of Appeal set out some of the dangers of remote hearings and the need to take considerable care when important decisions are being made. The judgment contains a clear message from the Court of Appeal in relation to listing and the need to ensure that the court does not become overloaded.
Mrs Justice Lieven considered the recent guidance on remote hearings and refused to adjourn an ongoing hearing.
The Court of Appeal rejected an argument that Practice Direction 51Z was ultra vires. The Practice Direction which provides for a stay of possession proceedings during the coronavirus crisis was held to be valid.
A respondent to a case wanted a variation of an earlier order because, since that order was made, the position had changed because of Coronavirus. It was held that there should be no change to the original order. It was a final order and could not be varied because of subsequent events.
The judge made an order restraining the presentation of a winding-up petition not on the basis of existing law, but on the basis that the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill 2020 is likely to become law in the near future.
Hussain, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Health & Social Care  EWHC 1392 (Admin)
Mr Justice Swift refused an application for interim relief to allow attendance at religious services. The application requested the prevention of enforcement of regulations 5, 6 and 7 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations SI202/350.
PD 51Z applied to appeals in possession proceedings up to the Court of Appeal.
The action related to possession proceedings brought by a bank. The appellant was seeking to appeal an order giving the bank possession. The appeal was heard on the 26th & 27th February 2020 and judgment was reserved. Mr Justice Freedman lifted the stay on possession proceedings for the purpose of handing down the judgment.
The claimant issued judicial review proceedings in relation to his medical treatment whilst in prison. The defendant’s defence asserted that the case was wholly without merit. An application by the claimant to vacate a hearing was refused, the claimant discontinued the claim shortly thereafter. The judge was considering the issue of who should pay the costs. Normally it is the discontinuing claimant that pays the costs. The claimant sought a different order because of the impact of coronavirus but this was rejected.
HHJ Godsmark QC allowed an application to vacate. However during the course of the judgment the judge stated that he would not have allowed an adjournment on the grounds that the defendant’s witnesses were employees who were currently furloughed.
Mr Justice Johnson refused the defendant’s application for an adjournment on the grounds that a trial held remotely would be unfair. He held that the trial could ahead in person (with one expert attending by video link); even if the trial had to be held remotely it could still be done fairly.
The Court of Appeal dismissed an argument that a “hybrid” hearing, to be heard with one side’s leading counsel attending remotely, was unfair. The judge held that the hearing should continue with the mother’s leading counsel attending remotely.
Mrs Justice Lambert considered an argument that the Coronavirus epidemic could play a part in the defendant’s application to amend its defence. She did not permit the defendant’s application.
An application to adjourn because of Covid concerns was refused. The judge held that an “in person” hearing could go ahead safely and a “hybrid” hearing was available as an alternative.
This case is another variant of the issues relating to the stay of possession proceedings. In this case, the judge declined to give judgment in an appeal that had been heard during the period of the stay. Such an appeal was materially different to an appeal heard prior to the stay.
During a remote hearing, the Master’s computer filled to capacity and would not accept more Skype recordings. Master Gordon-Saker reserved judgment.
The hearing was held remotely using Zoom and after some difficulties, technology was dealt with by counsel.
This was a clinical negligence case where the trial was successfully held remotely.
Mr Justice Freedman considered submissions that a hearing should take place in person. He held that there was an onus on part requesting a hearing in court to provide reasons why this should be the case.
This case was a judicial review claim challenging certain decisions made by the Treasury in relation to the availability of support by way of Statutory Sick Pay and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The Claimants were granted permission to apply for judicial review due to the public importance of the issues raised however the application was dismissed.
The Defendants’ application for security for costs was dismissed. The hearing was conducted in the early days of lockdown, and evidence on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was used. However, the judge concluded that at that point in time the impact of the pandemic on the Claimant’s industry did not give reason to believe that the Claimant would be unable to pay the costs in October/November 2021.
The judge granted an injunction restraining advertisement of a winding up petition but stated that it would not be permanent, but until further order, on the basis that the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill 2020 is not yet law.
* If readers know of other cases of interest we would be glad to hear from you.