The Coronavirus pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to the provision of core public services and unsurprisingly has had a significant impact on the hearings in civil proceedings that are traditionally conducted face to face.
To deal with these challenges, a new Practice Direction (PD) 51Y was introduced on 25 March 2020, with immediate effect. PD 51Y makes provisions in relation to video or audio hearings during the Coronavirus pandemic and clarifies the way in which the court may exercise its discretion to do so.
Under this new PD 51Y:
- To secure the proper administration of justice, a court may order that a hearing must take place in private where proceedings have been directed to be conducted wholly as video or audio proceedings and it is not practical for the hearing to be broadcast in a court building.
- If a media representative can access proceedings remotely while they are taking place, proceedings will be deemed to be public proceedings. In such circumstances, the court is not permitted to make an order that the hearing must take place in private.
- The court may direct that a remote hearing held in private be audio recorded, where that is practicable, and may also direct that it be video recorded.
- Any person may apply to the court for permission to access a recording, provided that the recording is accessed in a court building.
Clearly, the advances in communications and information technology made in the last few decades are providing the courts the opportunity to continue to provide their services effectively, through the uses of hardware and software communication platforms that are readily available.
Nevertheless, most of the scheduled hearings in relation to winding-up and bankruptcy petitions are being adjourned to hearing dates in June 2020 onwards. The Judiciary has decided that the general winding-up and bankruptcy list cannot be conducted remotely, and that no satisfactory safety arrangements are available to allow physical hearings.
All cases in the Insolvency and Companies List were adjourned on 25 March 2020 with liberty to restore on an urgent basis only. It has been confirmed that all the restored cases will only be taking place by Skype and remotely in accordance with the Protocol for Remote Hearings.
In adjourning the above matters, the court introduced a provision allowing parties to apply for dismissal of a petition or substitution of petitioner and confirmed that the normal provisions for withdrawing a petition remain unaffected.
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