COVID19 Litigation Update

Tue, 28 Apr 2020

New Practice Direction 51ZA Extension of Time Limits and Clarification of PD51Y

Almost three weeks ago saw the publication of the 118th Practice Direction Update to the Civil Procedure Rules. This new practice direction, namely practice Direction 51ZA, sought to revise the usual procedures for the extension of time limits and to provide clarification on an earlier practice direction, Practice Direction 51Y.

In brief, Practice Direction 51ZA:

  • Extends the usual 28 day extension period parties can agree to 56 days
  • Provides that an extension longer than 56 days requires the sanction of the court
  • Incorporates the COVID 19 pandemic as a factor to be considered by the court when reviewing applications for an extension of time 
  • A person seeking permission to listen or view a remote hearing may do so without making a formal application. In this respect, Practice Direction 51ZA amends Practice Direction 51Y  

It is suggested that such extension should not jeopardise a hearing date.

Whilst the Civil Procedure Rules committee has made it clear that the rules will remain under review, Practice Direction 51ZA ceases to have effect on 30th October 2020.

Practice Direction 51Z: Possession Proceedings

Practice Direction 51Z, provides that possession claims brought under CPR Part 55 and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession by a warrant or writ of possession are stayed for period of 90 days from 27 March 2020.

Practice Direction 51ZA does not change the operation of the provisions of Practice Direction 51Z which provides for the 90 days stay concerning possession proceedings.

Practice Direction 51Y: Video or Audio Hearing in Civil Proceedings during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Practice Direction 51Y was one of the first procedural updates in response to the pandemic. Its aim was to ensure that, so far as practicable, cases could still be heard and the rule of law upheld. In short, Practice Direction 51Y: 

  • Allows courts to hold a remote hearing in private. This means that where there was no possibility for a hearing to be broadcast in a court building, hearings could still proceed
  • Prevents the court from conducting a remote hearing in private where arrangements can be made for the media representative to access the remote hearing and such hearings will be conducted in public
  • Requires, where possible, that the court direct that a private remote hearing be recorded by video or audio and that any person may apply to the court to access such recording

In this unprecedented period, to ensure that the administration of justice continues, the powers under Practice Direction 51Y allow the courts to move away from the principle of open justice which is fundamental to the rule of law and preserved by public hearings. The courts can order remote hearings under Practice Direction 51Y.

Avoiding adjournments

Whilst all of the above is designed to reduce the number of cases which are adjourned until resolution of the COVID 19 crisis, it does appear that courts are, with some routine, adjourning cases. To prevent this, it is suggested that parties work especially hard to produce bundles for hearings which include essential material only. It is not unknown for courts to have listed cases remotely but, on receiving a large bundle, adjourn the remote hearing.

Parties should use their own initiative to consider whether it is possible for a case to be heard remotely and, with the benefit of the above updates to the CPR, it is suggested that many can be. It is further suggested that if parties do consider that a case can be dealt with remotely that they encourage the courts to do so.

The full practice directions are readily available at www.judiciary.uk

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