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This month in summary:
Focus on Scotland
Focus on Northern Ireland
There have been a number of updates that will affect lenders in respect of the pandemic. The key stories are:
In respect of renters, the Coronavirus Act also provides a temporary amendment (Until 30 September 2020) to both s.8 and s.21 notices, which means landlords now need to give three months’ notice before evicting tenants. The Act also gives government ministers wide discretion to extend these periods further if they believe that renters need additional time.
We are closely monitoring this fast-evolving situation.
In a recent decision in the Central London County Court the judge stated that the practice direction pausing all possession claims applied to a multitrack claim where directions had already been given.
In Arkin v Marshall 2020 F00HF362 (unreported), proceedings to enforce possession under a mortgage, the court had set the trial for between October 2020 and January 2021. The parties were due to complete disclosure during the 90 day period imposed by the practice direction and had a deadline for the submission of witness statements two days after it ended. This raised the question of whether these were affected by the stay. The judge ruled that the stay does apply and that adjustments should be made to the timetable after it is lifted.
The FCA has consulted on and implemented a collection of measures to complement those announced by the government. The consultation ran until 6 April, and the measures came into force on 14 April.
Key measures for customers of certain regulated credit agreements experiencing coronavirus related financial difficulties:
These measures will last for up to three months. Individual providers can also offer their own relief schemes to customers.
The FCA has issued a series of guidance and information publications for firms in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes:
See the FCA information for firms on coronavirus (Covid-19) response page for full details and updates. There is also a page with information for customers.
The administration of justice will continue during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Lord Chief Justice, The Lord Burnett of Maldon, said: “COVID-19 will clearly have an impact on the operation of all courts in every jurisdiction. It is not realistic to suppose that it will be business as usual in any jurisdiction, but it is of vital importance that the administration of justice does not grind to a halt.”
Flexibility and technology are key to minimising disruption during the coronavirus pandemic. Modern technology allows courts and tribunals to proceed efficiently and maximise capacity. Video and audio technology have been available to the Judiciary for many years but they are now vitally important.
The majority of hearings will proceed as planned and the Judiciary will consider whether technology is appropriate on a case-by-case basis. The drive for flexible solutions is important, so procedural matters may be deliberated on the papers and adjournments may be sought. Those affected by changes will receive direct information about any planned arrangements.
That being said, with significant steps taken to reduce risk, it is possible for physical hearings to proceed in line with the strong government guidance on social distancing. In circumstances where individuals are still required to physically attend courts and tribunals, they will be directed to medical information surrounding prevention and treatment.
As an essential service, the courts and tribunals of England and Wales will continue to adapt to these extraordinary circumstances.
The Crown Office has announced contingency arrangements for court business, which is designed to significantly reduce demand on the justice system and minimise unnecessary social contact.
The Scottish Courts have taken the following steps in the wake of the outbreak:
Only ‘urgent and necessary’ civil business will go through the Scottish courts until at least 20 April. This applies to all Sheriff, Court of Session and High Court business and is subject to ongoing review.
In order to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading, the public has been asked not to enter court buildings if they are not directly involved in proceedings. This measure will help the courts to protect their environment and reduce the risk for those who need to attend court or tribunal hearings.
In line with this, the Scottish Courts have closed the public court counters. There will be a drop box for documents in the reception area, but they have asked that documents are emailed to the generic email address of the Sheriff court where possible.
The courts have been working on developing virtual court facilities, with the Sherriff courts making use of telephone hearings, and from the 21 April the Court of Session Inner House appeals will be conducted over Cisco Webex.
Please visit the scotcourts.gov.uk website for updates and further information.
The Lord Chief Justice has stated that judges should not ask people to attend court if they do not need to be there. The courts are working towards dealing with more court business by video-link, skype or teleconference.
The court has produced forms for all cases for the week commencing 30 March 2020, which all parties involved should complete and submit to the court. The forms provide a way to inform the court of the current position in the case including any issues in dispute.
The Chancery Master in the High Court confirmed that there will be no oral hearings at the court with the parties present until further notice. However, the court is accepting written submissions. The Master will only make final orders in cases where he is satisfied that it is right to do so, and if he has any concerns about the process then he will adjourn the case. No new business should be issued unless it is urgent.
Likewise, the EJO and Bankruptcy Masters have also said that there will be no further oral hearings and cases currently in the list will be adjourned generally until further notice. The EJO has also advised that there will be no repossessions of occupied premises.
These are unprecedented times and the courts will continue to publish further guidelines as developments unfold. We will continue to update you, however, if you have any specific queries, please do not hesitate to contact us
23 April 2020
by Deborah Sheldon