Civil Justice Council impact of COVID-19 measures on the civil justice system – Law Society response

We’ve responded to the Civil Justice Council’s rapid consultation on the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) measures on the civil justice system.

This consultation particularly focused on remote hearings in the civil courts and tribunals.

Views were sought on:

  • What is working well about the current arrangements?
  • What is not working well about current arrangements?
  • Which types of cases are most suited to which type of hearings and why?
  • How does the experience of remote hearings vary depending on the platform that is used?
  • What technology is needed to make remote hearings successful?
  • What difference does party location make to the experience of the hearing?
  • How do remote hearings impact on the ability of representatives to communicate with their clients?
  • How do professional court users and litigants feel about remote hearings?
  • How do litigants in person experience hearings that are conducted remotely?
  • How do remote hearings impact on perceptions of the justice system by those who are users of it?
  • How is practice varying across different geographical regions?
  • What has been the impact of current arrangements on open justice?
  • What other observations would you make about the impact of COVID-19 on the operation of the civil justice system?

Our view

It’s vital that access to justice continues during the COVID-19 pandemic and the rule of law must be upheld.

In normal circumstances, we do not believe that remote hearings would be acceptable across the board and the same principle applies in the current pandemic.

However, during an emergency situation, such as this one, it’s only right that certain concessions are made in order to allow the wheels of justice to keep turning.

Given the nature of the pandemic and the safety implications connected with conducting face-to-face hearings, we believe that proceeding with remote hearings is usually better than delaying them.

However, the strong caveat here is that each case should be assessed to determine its suitability for a remote hearing, weighed up against its importance and urgency. Certain cases are more suited to remote hearings than others.

Access to justice and ensuring that all parties can effectively participate in court proceedings is central to the efficient and fair resolution of a civil case.

Consideration should be given to the parties’ views on whether the hearing should proceed remotely, and whether they feel that justice can be served in this way for their particular case.

We have particular concerns regarding the use of remote hearings in more complex cases, especially those involving unrepresented litigants, and those involving vulnerable people.

What this means for solicitors

Many solicitors and court users are now taking part in court hearings remotely.

Providing feedback about what’s working well, and what’s not working so well, will help to inform further guidance.

Next steps

The consultation closed on 15 May and is due to report back by 22 May.

Any feedback provided to the Civil Justice Council will help to inform further guidance and identify areas where additional work may be needed.

View the consultation on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website