Brenda Long, chairman and partner at leading Thames Valley law firm Blandy & Blandy, explains what impact a new national lockdown will have on Courts and tribunals.
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Saturday 31 October that England will enter a month long ‘tier 4’ national lockdown from Thursday 5 November, the Government has confirmed that Courts and tribunals (in England and Wales) will continue to remain open during this period.
Back in March, as the country entered lockdown for the first time, the work of Courts and tribunals was consolidated into fewer buildings to minimise the risk for all of those involved in proceedings. As the system slowed down, delays and a growing backlog threatened to worsen a system which was already under pressure.
In response, and as it quickly became clear that lockdown would not be short lived, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) brought forward reforms that were already being discussed prior to the pandemic, allowing for traditional face to face hearings to be conducted remotely (i.e. by telephone or video and occasionally ‘on paper’).
This was already the case for some short hearings in certain types of proceedings, but the rapid transition in April 2020 meant that nearly all hearings in which our clients were involved – family cases, litigation cases and employment cases – were conducted remotely.
Despite the relaxation of restrictions throughout the summer, many hearings have continued to take place remotely and it is anticipated that in many circumstances these changes may become permanent. Certainly they are with us for now.
In early summer, HMCTS accelerated the rollout of a new cloud video platform (CVP), to provide a secure network through which all proceedings can take place.
Although not always ideal, with the cooperation of all involved and some creativity, these hearings can still be very effective. The hope is that this time round the Courts, the system and all parties are better prepared and accustomed to working in this way and that it will allow proceedings to be handled in a prompt and effective manner.
As a firm, we are experienced in working with our clients remotely and adept at dealing with matters in this way, meaning that our clients can continue to expect the same expert legal advice and excellent client care on which out leading reputation is based.