Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic – Court Business Continuity Arrangements – 17 March 2020

The Lord Chief Justice met yesterday with representatives of the legal profession to discuss measures to reduce the number of individuals required to attend courts.  The Lord Chief Justice is very aware of the courts’ responsibility to limit the scope of any risks to health while maintaining the administration of justice.

The Lord Chief Justice has, however, directed that from 18 March 2020, judges should not require the attendance at court of persons who do not need to be there, or who express individual concerns. This includes individuals where it may be sufficient for their legal representatives to act on their behalf and individuals should contact their legal representatives for assistance in this regard. This also applies to any cases that may be ongoing.  

The Lord Chief Justice considers that applications for adjournments may be dealt with administratively by way of correspondence in writing or by email.    In family cases, orders may be continued on consent without requiring the parties to attend. If a party wishes to challenge the extension of the order they should contact the court office setting out the request and the reasons for the application. 

We are working to increase the amount of court business that can be dealt with by way of video link, skype or telephone conference. 

Judges will continue to deal with priority proceedings which typically involve the immediate liberty, health, safety and wellbeing of individuals.  Examples include:

Criminal proceedings

  • First remands in the Magistrates’ Courts (charge sheets);
  • Bail applications
  • PACE applications;
  • Sentencing where delay may mean time on remand exceeds any likely/realistic custody period under the sentence;

 

Family proceedings

  • Non-Molestation Orders;
  • Applications under the Children (NI) Order 1995 such as Care Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders, Emergency Protection Orders and Secure Accommodation Orders;
  • Declaratory judgments in patients’ cases;
  • Child abduction.

 

Civil proceedings

  • Habeas Corpus applications
  • Urgent injunctions;
  • Urgent judicial reviews.

 An application may be made in writing to the relevant court office in respect of any other proceedings.

 Jurors who are currently serving on a jury in a Crown Court trial or an inquest should contact the relevant court office on Wednesday morning, 18th March 2020.  The Lord Chief Justice has issued advice to Crown Court judges on what to do if a serving juror indicates they are experiencing possible symptoms of COVID-19. There will, however, be no new jury trials commencing until further notice.

 The Office of the Lord Chief Justice (OLCJ) and Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) continue to work together on business continuity plans in response to the very fluid situation.   This may include, for example, timetabling of cases and we are working on further guidance for each of the court tiers. Generally, creative and flexible mechanisms will be pursued and tried in attempts to maintain a reasonable balance between protecting the health of all and maintaining legal certainty and finality.

Information on the operational running of the courts will be communicated on the Judiciary NI website (https://judiciaryni.uk/), the NI Judiciary Twitter feed (@JudiciaryNI) and the website of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/topics/courts-and-tribunals)(external link opens in a new window / tab).


Cases listed before the Bankruptcy Master on 18 – 20 March 2020

Please note that all cases listed before the Bankruptcy Master on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week (18-20 March 2020) will be adjourned in accordance with the arrangements set out below.

Notification of adjournment dates will be issued in due course.

  • Originating Applications (adjourn for 2 weeks exactly)
  • Set aside applications (adjourn for 2 weeks exactly)
  • Winding up petitions (adjourn 2 weeks)
  • Ordinary applications (if urgent, the Master will deal with the application remotely, otherwise they will be adjourned for 1 week)
  • Debtor’s applications (adjourn until  Monday 23 March 2020 – no attendance required)
  • Creditor’s Petitions (the Master will adjourn and make new venue orders on the days they are listed)

 

Please refer any queries to the Bankruptcy Office bankruptcyoffice@courtsni.gov.uk

Cathy Scollan

Business Manager

Royal Courts of Justice


Specific types of Court Business

It is anticipated that new approaches will be taken by the judiciary over coming weeks in relation to how court business is processed to reflect the changing times in which we now find ourselves. The Society has been advised of the following:-

Family Reviews in the High Court – correspondence issued by Mr Justice McAlinden

“In an effort to deal with our current difficult circumstances, I am of the view that we should now attempt to swiftly move to conduct all family reviews (and possibly hearings proceeding by way of submissions only) by way of telephone conferencing for the rest of this term.

I envisage that the assigned Clerk and I will still be present in the Court Room to enable the loud speaker conferencing to take place, to enable the FTR system to record the telephone conference hearing and to enable the Clerk to take a note of the directions made.

We would probably have to deal with the cases in the strict order in which they appear on the list. In order to notify parties that an earlier review had finished, I would suggest that by agreement of the parties, one participant would be designated in advance as the “contact participant” and that participant would be sent a text by the Court Office indicating that the Court was able to deal with that review. The contact participant would then contact the other participants and each would then telephone in and join the conference call. The Court would then be able to deal with each participant’s submissions and proceed as we normally do in Court.

It may well be the case that events overtake us and that all but essential business is cancelled for the foreseeable future in the next few days. But even then it might be possible to conduct essential family business by this means. It may also be the case that some teams of legal representatives for one reason or another are unable to obtain instructions and may wish to have reviews or hearings adjourned. Unless agreed by prior e mail exchange involving all the parties and not by just contacting the Court Office and requesting an adjournment, any such application for an adjournment can be dealt with by way of telephone conference.

As for substantive hearings involving witnesses, I think the technology is not such as to facilitate this at present. We will have to await the anticipated announcement from the LCJ’s office re substantive hearings in cases involving oral evidence in the various divisions.

If the approach that I have outlined finds favour with both branches of the profession and with Court Service, it might it be possible to get this up and running before the end of the week. It strikes me as a potential solution which protects individuals and at the same time allows progress to be made in cases involving families in need.

The RCJ Children Office can hopefully provide the instructions on how to access the conference call facilities that I am reasonably sure presently exist.”

Cases at Craigavon Family Proceedings Court over 18-20 March 2020

District Judge Ranaghan (Magistrates’ Court) has written to advise that given the current situation, any client appearing in Craigavon Family Proceedings Court this week is excused. He hopes that solicitors will be able to contact their clients in advance of this week’s courts. Should any solicitor deem it important that the client should attend (cases for hearing or mediation etc) that is fine.