Covid-19 Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire & Lincolnshire Protocol HHJ Godsmark QC – Designated Civil Judge

HHJ Godsmark QC has issued the listing and hearing protocol set out below for all Civil courts in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. It is worthwhile having a close look at the annexes in relation to listing priorities and the provision of electronic material.

“Although we are now able to catch our breath we are all still learning how to operate within the restrictions currently in force. Please be patient with court staff who are under great pressure with reduced numbers. If you have constructive suggestions as to how we might do things differently and better please forward them to me as Designated Civil Judge.”

“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 at courts in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. It is guidance only. It is subject to change. It has no application to Family or Criminal work.

2. Hearings will continue to take place. The default means of hearing is by telephone but this is being kept under review. Hearings which can be done remotely will take place; those which judiciary decide cannot be done satisfactorily by remote means will be adjourned to a later date. Exceptionally, where a case is urgent and must be heard but that cannot satisfactorily be done remotely, judges will seek to find a way for the case to be heard in a courtroom with appropriate safeguards.

Status of Court Buildings

3. Courts have now been placed into one of three categories.

Open Courts

These are courts where an urgent hearing which cannot be done satisfactorily remotely, may take place in a courtroom, subject to suitable safeguards. It does not mean that all hearings are in open court. It means that exceptionally, the court can be opened for a hearing within the court building. In Notts, Derbys and Lincs, Nottingham County Court is the only Open County Court.

 

Staffed Courts

These are courts where staff are present on site carrying out listing and administrative tasks but there is no access to others. The court buildings are closed to the public (including the legal profession).

In Notts, Derbys and Lincs, Derby County Court, Chesterfield County Court, Mansfield County Court and Lincoln County Court are Staffed courts.

Suspended Courts These are courts which are closed until further notice. There are no staff on site.

In Notts, Derbys and Lincs Boston County Court has been suspended.

Contact with Courts

4. The Open and Staffed courts have offices working where incoming mail, telephone calls and emails can be received. However court staff are extremely busy and are stretched with high levels of absence.

5. Please do not contact courts to try to find out what is happening to your case. Court staff will contact you but particularly in the early stages of this emergency they are struggling to look more than a few days ahead. Staff time spent dealing with telephone calls and emails asking about listed cases is time which staff need to re-organise lists.

6. At each of Derby, Chesterfield, Nottingham, Mansfield and Lincoln there is an on-site duty judge present each day. That judge will triage incoming matters and give directions in the event of urgency.

Listing Priorities

7. 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 Hearings

8. Only in exceptional circumstances will a hearing be conducted with any person being present in a hearing room.

9. Nottingham is the only County Court at which a Face to Face hearing can take place. However for certain types of hearing (eg Anti-social behaviour injunction arrest), judges may try to arrange appearances at a more local Open Magistrates’ Court (Derby. Lincoln, Mansfield).

10. A Face to Face Hearing will only take place if directed by the on-site duty judge.

Conduct of Hearings – Remote Means .

11. Judges are generally working remotely from home (save the on-site duty judge).

12. Judges working remotely from home are unlikely to have the court file with them for a remote hearing. Please assume they do not. To assist a judge undertaking a remote hearing parties are requested to co-operate to identify key essential documents for the hearing and to send these to the court by email for onward transmission to the judge. Such a “skeleton bundle” may comprise a case summary tailored to the issues for the hearing and extracted documents needed by the judge. Such a skeleton bundle should be sent in pdf format if possible EXCEPT that any draft Order should be in Word format for ready editing by the judge. For more, see Annexe B below.

BT MeetMe

13. The default position is that hearings will be conducted remotely using the BT MeetMe telephone conferencing facility. This will involve the judge telephoning the parties. Please be available from 5 minutes before the listed time for the hearing until 30 minutes after. Experience is teaching us that remote hearings take longer and can over-run. Do not telephone or email the court if you are waiting to be connected within the above window.

14. Alternative remote conferencing platforms are under consideration. Skype for Business is at present the preferred video conferencing platform but not all parties have access to it. Its use may grow as these arrangements continue.

15. Parties will need to provide a contact telephone number for use of the judge. This must be a direct telephone number. Switchboard numbers are not acceptable: BT MeetMe requires the call recipient to identify themselves for immediate joining to the hearing, any significant delay and the call is automatically ended.

BT / Legal Connect

16. These have attractions where there are numerous people to be joined to a remote hearing. However it may be that there are insufficient court staff to take a call and divert it to a judge at home. Use of this facility is being kept under review.

Video Conferencing

17. At present, the only approved remote means of video conferencing is Skype for Business. It is hoped that its use will grow.

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

Open Justice

19. The provisions of PD51Y have effect.

20. Judges are likely to invoke PD 51Y to hold remote hearings in private, that being necessary to secure the proper administration of justice in these exceptional times. Remote hearings will be recorded. Interested parties may obtain transcripts. The PD also provides a mechanism for listening to recordings of hearings

Adjourned Matters

Possession proceedings

21. Pursuant to CPR Practice Direction 51Z, all possession proceedings and evictions have been adjourned, stayed or suspended, as appropriate. The PD 51Z stay expires on 24th June 2020, unless extended.

22. Possession lists of cases adjourned or stayed are being set up from the end of July. The approach is to build those lists now rather than wait and then have to try and list cases once the stay is lifted. It is recognised that this may be optimistic.

Warrants of Possession

23. Are likewise suspended. Once the PD stay is lifted, individual applications for any further stay will be considered case by case.

Oral Examinations / Attachment of Earnings Appointments

24. 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.

25. On the very few occasions that a debtor has attended a court building, they have been sent away. New appointments will have to be arranged with re-service when restrictions allow.

Child or Protected party settlement approval hearings (CPR 21)

26. Many judges have views about the desirability of seeing claimant and litigation friend. However during the restrictions judges will try to deal with these on paper and directions will be given as to what needs to be filed for that purpose. A judge will always have the option of seeking a telephone hearing or adjourning until a face to face hearing is possible.

Small claims

27. Have been adjourned to lists being created in September/October. It is not thought that these are generally suited for remote hearings particularly in the light of the high incidence of Litigants in Person.

28. Parties are being encouraged to agree to determination on paper under CPR 27.10.

Fast track trials

29. Are remaining in lists as usual. Many continue to settle. As judges become more practised with remote hearings, we will be looking at having suitable fast track trials by Skype.

Multi-track trials

30. Are remaining in lists as usual. Again many continue to settle. These may be more difficult to hear by Skype but some suitable candidates have been identified. You should continue to have your settlement meetings.

31. A major problem in multi-track trials is likely to revolve around the availability of medical experts during the Covid emergency. It is recognised that parties will wish to know whether their trial will go ahead before expert cancellation fees become an issue.

32. Where a case is not going to settle, there are problems with expert availability and/or questions as to whether the case is capable of being heard by Skype, the parties may apply for a “Covid PTR”. There will be no fee for any such application which will be put before a judge who is likely to want a telephone hearing. At that hearing consideration will be given to adjourning the trial, or whether it can be conducted remotely.

Practice Directions

33. Reference has already been made to:- PD 51Y – Remote Hearings PD 51Z – Stay on possession claims & enforcement

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 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.

Orders

36. With many firms of solicitors having closed offices the arrival of court orders by post is posing a problem. Court staff will try to send out orders by email in addition to post if they have an appropriate email address

Conclusion

37. Although we are now able to catch our breath we are all still learning how to operate within the restrictions currently in force. Please be patient with court staff who are under great pressure with reduced numbers. If you have constructive suggestions as to how we might do things differently and better please forward them to me as Designated Civil Judge.

HHJ Nigel Godsmark QC

Designated Civil Judge for

Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire

10th April 2020

Annex A – Listing Priorities

These lists relate only to County Court and District Registry Civil Work.

Category 1: Work Which Must Be Done

Committals

Freezing Orders

Injunctions (and return days for without notice injunctions).

The emphasis must be on those with a real-time element (such as post-termination employment restrictions, noise or interference with property).

Anti-Social Behaviour/Harassment injunctions

Production of persons in custody following Power of Arrest detentions

Applications to displace nearest relative under s 29 of MHA 1983

Homelessness Applications

Enforcement work that does not involve bailiffs, such as third-party debt orders.

Any applications in cases listed for trial in the next three months

Any applications where there is a substantial hearing listed in the next month

All Multi Track hearings where parties agree that it is urgent (subject to triage)

Appeals in all these cases

3. Category 2: Work Which Could Be Done

Child and Protected Party (CPR 21) approvals

Applications for interim payments in MT/PI/Clin Neg

Stage 3 assessment of damages

Trials involving the survival of a business or the solvency of an individual

Enforcement of trading contracts

Applications for summary judgement for a specified sum

Applications to set aside judgement in default

Applications for security for costs

All small claim/fast track trials where parties agree it is urgent (subject to triage)

Preliminary assessment of costs

Appeals in all these cases

Annex B – Provision of Electronic Material

Electronic Material – General Provisions

1. The Court expects that:

(1) documents for the hearing shall, wherever possible, be in electronic form; and

(2) hearings shall be conducted using an electronic bundle comprising only those documents which are necessary for the proper conduct of the hearing.

2. If the parties require assistance in the preparation of an e-bundle using adobe acrobat, they could usefully follow the instructions in the video prepared by St Philips Chambers: https://st-philips.com/creating-and-using-electronic-hearing-bundles/

Draft Orders should be in Word format for judicial editing.

3. Please provide the names and email addresses of the remote hearing participants to facilitate electronic contact from the Judge both in advance of the hearing and during, without wasting time in trying to discover relevant addresses.

4. When sending documents to the court by e-mail attachments, each attachment should not exceed 25 Megabytes.

5. Parties are encouraged to send only relevant extracts from documents.

Directions in Orders are likely to be in substantially the following format:

1. Electronic versions of the absolute minimum quantity of materials (including skeleton arguments and draft orders) must be delivered to the Court and to the other parties by not later than 2.00pm on the last business day before the hearing. It may not be possible to consider material delivered after that time. The materials to the Court must be delivered in accordance with the directions below.

2. The directions for delivery of electronic material to the court are:

(1) Wherever possible, send by email a single paginated electronic bundle comprising all of the documents relevant to the hearing.

(2) The address to send to is (as the case may be):

Chesterfield chesterfieldcountycourt@justice.gov.uk Derby enquiries.derby.countycourt@justice.gov.uk Lincoln hearings.lincoln.countycourt@justice.gov.uk Mansfield mansfieldcty.enquiries@justice.gov.uk Nottingham hearings.nottingham.countycourt@justice.gov.uk

(3) The subject title of the email must contain all of this information:

(a) Case number;

(b) Case name (shortest comprehensible version);

(c) Hearing date;

(d) Judge Name (if known)

(e) The words in capitals “REMOTE HEARING”

(4) The body of the email should, where possible, include the names, email addresses and descriptions (for example “Claimant’s Counsel”) of the persons attending the remote hearing.

(5) In cases where the hearing is to be by means of BTMeetMe, the body of the email must also include the telephone numbers and descriptions of the participants.”