Coronavirus & Court Proceedings – What you Need to Know

March 18, 2020, By

You may already have court dates and deadlines in place and be rightly worried about going to court and what will happen if you do not file paperwork on time. Potentially, you might have to self-isolate and be simply unable to comply with the deadlines. More importantly, you will be concerned about how you can resolve your case if the worst happens and courts have to close.

At present, (17 March 2020) the courts and judges are still planning to run lists as normal. We have seen various emails asking part-time judges to cover urgent hearings that are needed, which is quite normal, so it seems business as usual. Inevitably, judges will also be ill too – they are human after all.

As such, we anticipate that some court proceedings will be cancelled in the coming days or weeks. Until there is a formal announcement, we still need to prepare for court as we always would.

What if I am ill?

If you are ill, please do not visit your solicitor’s office or go to court. As technology has improved vastly over the recent years, we as solicitors are better placed than ever to deal with the present crisis. We are used to receiving paperwork digitally rather than through the post as would happen more routinely just a few years ago, and we are happy to receive instructions in this way. If instructed by you, we can sign paperwork on your behalf once it has been scanned and sent to you for your approval/amendment so you don’t need to worry about a ‘wet’ signature.

To avoid overall delays so far as possible we need to try and progress your case even if you are ill. This is because the chances are that your illness will be short term and delays might add months to resolving your case. Depending on the type of court hearing, your solicitor could attend for you, or deal with it on your behalf. In the event of illness, again the solicitor dealing with your case might have to be changed, potentially at short notice, but rest assured that anyone who deals with your case will be an experienced lawyer and is used to dealing with other files, for example when another colleague is on holiday.

Judges have been encouraged to be flexible and to deal with matters by way of a paper only procedure as opposed to a traditional face to face court hearing. Skype or telephone hearings also appear to be an option too.

However, if you need more time to prepare your case as you are so unwell that you do not feel able to do what your lawyer needs you to do to present your case in the best way possible, we can attempt to reach an agreement with the other party to ask the court to re-timetable your case.

What if there is an emergency and I need protection?

If you have a very urgent matter which requires court assistance such as a domestic violence injunction, then both we at Slater Heelis and the court will prioritise your safety and the processing of your case. There has been a video pilot scheme in Manchester recently so again the court might be able to facilitate a hearing remotely or by telephone. If you need urgent protection then call our family team on 0161 969 3131 or by email to family@slaterheelis.co.uk.

What if the courts close or adjourn my case for months?

If courts do close then rest assured there are still ways we can assist to try and resolve your case. Initially, this can be done through discussions and agreements with the other party or their representative or by way of a referral to mediation – again which could be conducted remotely such as by Skype.

Alternatively, if there is simply no judicial time and your case is going to be adjourned, potentially for months, the following options are available:

  1. In family finances cases a private Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearing could be conducted away from the court at a convenient time to all. The private FDR would be conducted by an experienced barrister instead of a Judge. The advantage is that the barrister would be available all day and will only deal with your case, whereas a judge may have many cases in their court list. Approximately 80-90% of cases settle at an FDR hearing.
  2. Binding arbitration could be useful in many cases e.g. family finances and children disputes where an experienced barrister would conduct the final hearing of your case and hear evidence from the parties. Again this would be conducted away from court at a time convenient to all. The decision would be final and binding upon you.
  3. Family mediation. We have two family mediators here at Slater Heelis both of whom are very experienced family lawyers and frequently mediate.

 

There will be an additional cost to pay for the services of an experienced barrister to conduct the private FDR or arbitration but balanced against that is the potential of an unknown period of delay.

These are unusual times but we will be able to navigate a solution to your case; that’s what we do and what we are here for.

If you need further advice then please call the team on 0161 969 3131 (24 hours a day) or email family@slaterheelis.co.uk