Whilst every day the government makes changes that affect our lives, judicial process remains largely unchanged.
As the crisis deepens, more and more litigants are querying what COVID-19 means for them and the particular circumstances of their claim. What if the filing requirements of a direction cannot be complied with because a party is self-isolating? What does it mean if you are contemplating filing but the limitation period on a claim comes to an end during a period when the Government is preventing you from leaving your home? Does the judicial review challenge period continue to run during lockdown?
In short, it is very much ‘business as usual’ for the Courts, including the Planning Court, as no government guidance has been issued nor emergency legislation passed that is of assistance in the above circumstances.
Parties must continue to work as they would have done before the coronavirus outbreak and it remains to be seen whether, say in the case of a judicial review challenge, lockdown will be sufficient mitigation to justify an extension to the six-week period within which a claim must be issued.
That is not to say nothing is being done. Lawyers have been lobbying the Government to consider amending the Civil Procedure Rules to allow for more time to meet court deadlines, with some suggesting that limitation periods for civil claims should be automatically suspended and time limits for procedural claims automatically extended.
A recent complex personal injury case has been billed as involving the first ‘COVID-19 Direction’, whereby the High Court granted the claimant’s request for permission for the parties to agree extensions of time for up to 56 days without further order from the court in light of the global pandemic.
It may be that the government and courts are expecting parties to take the initiative on claims. Of course, this would not apply to potential claims where limitation periods are the key factor. Spain has taken the step of issuing a moratorium on all claims – it is unclear at this stage whether the government is willing to take a similar, drastic step to assist with ensuring the public’s wellbeing and the ongoing safety of those involved in all aspects of litigious proceedings.