This is Coronavirus Court: Procedural changes made to ease coronavirus burden on litigators

April 30, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Civil litigation rule-makers have passed temporary reforms (in effect until October 2020) to ease pressure on litigators struggling to meet deadlines and court orders due to the coronavirus pandemic having heeded the warnings of practitioners. The amendments will allow general time extensions and help litigators fulfil procedural obligations where they are unable to meet clients.

What does this mean?

The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) govern the procedure of parties to litigation in England and Wales. Responsibility for CPR oversight is the CPR Committee (CPRC). In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the CPRC have made three key Practice Direction updates to the Civil Procedure Rules. 

In particular, Practice Direction 51ZA allows parties to agree an extension to time limits up to 56 days rather than the current 28 days, without formally notifying the court, provided that doing so does not put a hearing date at risk. Any court faced with an application for an extension for over 56 days, for adjournment and for relief from sanctions will have to consider the impact of the pandemic.  

Leading the call for temporary reform is Gordon Exall, who originally called for the CPRC to show leniency on extensions. Interestingly, before the CPRC formulated PD51ZA, various  claimant and insurance firms took matters into their own hands. They agreed to a 4-week protocol to freeze limitation dates in all personal injury cases and to allow defendant requests for more time to serve a defence.

What's the big picture effect?

Whilst these reforms will go some way to providing a solution for litigators that are struggling to meet time limits, there are other issues facing litigators that have not yet been addressed by the CPRC. For example, Exall also raised that parties are currently required to sign their own witness statement and disclosure statement; a near impossible task when litigators are not in a position to meet with clients in person to fulfil these procedural obligations. Exall suggests that the CPRC reform these rules so that a statement that the document has been seen by or read to the party in question is sufficient. 

It seems that flexibility is the order of the day in civil litigation during the coronavirus pandemic and it remains to be seen if the CPRC passes further reforms to address other issues raised by litigators and ease the coronavirus burden in these extraordinary circumstances. Nevertheless, the CPRC is clear that any reforms made in relation to the coronavirus pandemic are temporary and will cease to be in effect after Friday 30 October 2020. In the meantime, further plans for wider-ranging and more permanent reform are expected to be shelved as the CPRC shifts its focus to supporting litigators through the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Report written by Jasemine Kobewka

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