SOUTH YORKSHIRE CIVIL: COVID LISTING AND HEARING PROTOCOL

HHJ Robinson, the DCJ for South Yorkshire, has published a listing and hearing protocol for all court users. This is reproduced in full below.

 

“South Yorkshire Civil Covid-19 Protocol 1
His Honour Judge Graham Robinson, Designated Civil Judge (DCJ)

Introduction

1. This listing and hearing protocol is addressed to all civil court users. It is
intended to give some guidance as to what work can be done and the manner
in which it can be done. It applies to all Civil work. It is guidance only. It
has no application to Family or Criminal work.
2. Wherever possible hearings will continue to take place. The default means of
hearing is remotely. This is explained more fully below.

Status of Court Buildings

3. The County Courts at Sheffield and Doncaster are “open” courts in the sense
that they are theoretically open to Judges, staff, legal professionals, litigants,
witnesses and members of the public. However, this status is subject to the
Government guidance to stay home wherever possible. As appears below, it is
anticipated that only in exceptional circumstances will it be appropriate for
anybody to attend a court building to take part in a hearing.
4. The County Court at Barnsley is a “suspended” court. The building is
temporarily closed. Arrangements have been made to permit periodic access
by staff, for instance to retrieve paper files, but it is otherwise inaccessible. It
follows that no hearing requiring a physical presence of anyone in a hearing
room can be conducted at Barnsley.
5. Furthermore, because of the severely restricted access to the Barnsley
building, it is unlikely to be possible to deal with Barnsley box-work on a
daily basis.
6. The public counters for civil work in Doncaster and Sheffield are closed.
7. The staff located at Doncaster and Sheffield are extremely busy and very
stretched. As with all businesses, there are significant staff absences.
8. At present, telephones in the Civil section are being answered from 10.00am
until 4.00pm, but expect longer than usual delays in your call being answered.
9. In the future it may be necessary to have Civil section telephone lines open
only from 10.00am until 2.00pm.

Listing Priorities

10. Annex A reproduces guidance concerning listing priorities. Once more it is
guidance only. In common with many other DCJs, I have agreed that urgent
family work takes priority over routine civil work.
Conduct of Hearings – Face to Face (F2F) Hearings
11. Only in exceptional circumstances will a hearing be conducted with any
person being present in a hearing room at Doncaster or Sheffield. If an F2F
hearing is a Barnsley case, the hearing location will have to be Doncaster or
Sheffield, or some other court building outside South Yorkshire.
12. Any application for an F2F hearing will be referred to the DCJ. Cogent
reasons must be provided why the hearing cannot be conducted by remote
means. The application need not be by formal application notice. An email to
the court will suffice, which will then be forwarded to the DCJ.

Conduct of Hearings – Remote Means

13. Judges have for many years been conducting hearings by telephone, so in one
sense there is nothing new. However, before the current Covid-19 crisis, some
hearings have been deemed unsuitable for telephone hearings. All that has
changed.
14. Judges will now consider the conduct of hearings by any feasible remote
means. These include:
(1) BT telephone conferencing.
(2) BT MeetMe telephone conferencing.
(3) Skype for Business video conferencing.
15. Current guidance is that Zoom is not a suitable platform for the conduct of
remote hearings. It will be the personal decision of the individual Judge to
permit a hearing by Zoom.
16. Most Judges are, wherever possible, working remotely from home. It is
unlikely that such Judges will have access to the Court file. However, Judges
will attend at Doncaster or Sheffield where necessary.
17. Wherever possible, hearings will NOT be conducted using paper files.
Necessary documents must be sent to the relevant court electronically. Annex
B contains relevant guidance.
18. All orders to parties will contain instructions concerning the delivery to the
court and to other parties of electronic documents largely in accordance with
the Annex B guidance.

BT Telephone Conference Hearings

19. The arrangements are as before, with the Solicitor for the Claimant or
Applicant having the obligation to arrange the call. At present there are
sufficient staff to be able to put these calls through to the Judge. It has to be
acknowledged that this may not be the case in the future. In that eventuality,
BTMeetMe may be the only feasible choice.
20. It remains unlikely that this remote means is suitable for litigants in person. It
is also unlikely to be a suitable means for clients and witnesses to participate.
However, Judges are always willing to listen to constructive proposals.

BT MeetMe Hearings

21. In most cases the Judge, as chairperson of the conference call, will dial out to
participants in the hearing. The advantage of this procedure is that no other
participant needs to download any software.
22. It follows that the telephone numbers of all of the participants must be
supplied in advance.
23. This means of remote hearing is also likely to prove a more appropriate means
to accommodate the participation of litigants in person, clients and witnesses.

Video Conferencing

24. At present, the only approved remote means of video conferencing is Skype
for Business. It is by far the most preferable means of participation where
evidence is to be taken.

Court Dress
25. Advocates are not required to wear Robes any hearing. Smart business wear
is, however, appropriate for hearings where the advocate(s) can be seen.

Open Justice

26. The provisions of PD51Y have effect.
27. Subject to PD51Y all hearings, wherever possible, continue to be open to the
public.
28. Wherever possible hearings which are conducted by remote means, such as by
telephone or video, will have the sound streamed into a court room.
29. It is acknowledged that with increasing pressure put on court staff, the
instances where the above arrangements are not possible are likely to increase.
The PD provides a mechanism for listening to recordings of hearings. PD
51ZA provides that a “request” must be made. It is not necessary to make a
Part 23 application.

Adjourned Hearings

30. In accordance first with the Government announcement and then pursuant to
CPR Practice Direction 51Z, all possession proceedings and evictions have
been adjourned, stayed or suspended, as appropriate.
31. Similar arrangements are in place for work involving attendance by bailiffs.
32. Similar arrangements are in place for work involving attendance by bailiffs.
This includes personal service of documents by bailiffs. National guidance is
to the effect that bailiffs “are to carry out duties only where Personal
Protective Equipment and/or physical distancing can be achieved in
accordance with a local risk assessment.”
33. It is not presently feasible for debtors to attend court to give information as to
their means. At present it is not thought that these appointments are suitable
for remote hearings, particularly in the light of the pressures on court staff.
34. Attention is drawn to CPR PD 51ZA. This provides that the reference to
consensual extensions of time of up to 28 days in CPR rule 3.8 is now
substituted by 56 days.
35. The PD also directs courts to take into account the impact of the Covid-19
pandemic when considering applications for extensions of time for compliance
with directions, the adjournment of hearings and applications for relief from
sanctions.
36. At the commencement of the Covid-19 crisis, Judges and staff needed a
breathing space to think. A number of cases were adjourned with an
indication that a new hearing date would be fixed sometime after the elapse of
12 weeks, that is until after June 2020. Provision was made for the parties to
make proposals for earlier remote hearings.
37. Things have settled down somewhat. Even those who did not previously
consider themselves to be particularly “tech savvy” have made remarkable
progress. It seems likely that Judges and parties are now in a better position to
undertake a greater variety of hearings by remote means.
38. There are clearly issues about conducting a remote hearing where contested
oral evidence will be given. However, wherever possible, such hearings will
be accommodated.
39. The largest impediment to conducting hearings such a Fast Track and Multi
Track trials is the volume of documentation. Such cases will continue to be
triaged on a case by case basis. If the decision is taken to adjourn a hearing,
there will always be a provision in the order inviting proposals how the
hearing can be conducted remotely.
40. Consideration will be given in Small Claims cases to dealing with them by the
“on paper” procedure.

Orders

41. Some firms of Solicitors have set up a dedicated inbox to receive orders and
communications from the court. Court staff will happily send orders etc by
email. Will those solicitors who require this service please send an email to
the court with details of the preferred email address.
42. The court is unable to email material to the private email addresses of
individuals.

Conclusion

43. It is impossible to predict how long these arrangements will remain in place.
The Judges and court staff are working incredibly hard to continue the
Administration of Justice in South Yorkshire.
44. The Judges and court staff are always open to constructive suggestions how to
improve that Administration of Justice.

His Honour Judge Graham Robinson
Designated Civil Judge, Sheffield and South Yorkshire
The Law Courts
50 West Bar
Sheffield S3 8PH
DX 703028 Sheffield 6
April 2020 (V.1)”