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HMCTS reveals list of priority work for county courts

By John Hyde

The courts service today published a new list of priority county court work as it tries to keep the justice system going amid the coronavirus lockdown.

HM Courts & Tribunal Service has split civil court listings into two groups: work that must be done and work that could be done. Civil work in the Court of Appeal and High Court is subject to separate guidance.

The update is the first acknowledgment that some types of work may have to be put on the back-burner while the system adjusts to fewer court buildings being open and hearings carried out remotely. The intention is to hear as many of the second group as possible, but only where the first group work has been completed.

Cases treated as less of a priority include applications for interim payments in personal injury and clinical negligence claims and stage three assessment of damages. In addition, the lesser priority group includes all small claim or fast track trials where parties agree it is urgent.

Applications for summary judgment, to set aside a judgment in default and for security for costs are also work that does not have to be done as a priority, along with preliminary assessment of costs.

Work that must be done includes committals, freezing orders, injunctions, homelessness applications and all multi-track hearings where parties agree it is urgent. The full list can be found here.

While the position of the criminal courts has been much discussed since restrictions were imposed because of COVID-19, the situation for civil justice lawyers has been less clear cut.

The Civil Procedure Rule Committee said last week it was considering urgent amendments in response to the pandemic but has made no announcement.

In the meantime, insurers and claimant law firms have taken it upon themselves to agree a temporary protocol freezing limitation periods, which is due to be in place until 20 April. More than 150 firms have now signed up.

The High Court and Court of Appeal continue to cover only urgent work, with civil hearings conducted remotely where possible.

An example of courts adapting to working remotely came in Wolverhampton City Council & Ors v Persons Unknown, a case concerning an order prohibiting car cruising in the Black Country area. His Honour Judge Worster heard the case on Monday and directed that the claimant’s attendance was not required. He insisted that a short written judgment be published on Bailii the same day to ensure the public was aware of the court’s consideration of the matter.

(Source: Law Society Gazette, 1 April 2020)