The Bar Council has advised barristers that they should not court attend hearings in person unless certain limited criteria are met following the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday (23 March) that the UK should stay at home to inhibit the spread of COVID-19.

The latest guidance is that in the Civil or Family Courts barristers should not attend in person unless the hearing is genuinely urgent and it cannot be done remotely. Such a hearing will be “a rare occurrence.”

In the Crown Courts barrister should not attend the Crown Court in person unless they are in a part heard trial. It will be a judicial decision whether the trial will continue. For all other cases, the Bar Council says its members should engage with the court through the DCS system to try to move it forward remotely.

In the Magistrates Courts barristers should not attend in person unless they are in an urgent case today (see the list below). Magistrates Courts will not be dealing with any other business in person. Magistrates are being told not to attend. “We appreciate that many junior barristers and pupils do this work. As for all barristers, the Bar Council is here to support you, if you need help,” the Council says.

The categories of Magistrates Court work that are deemed to be urgent cases are set out at the bottom of this article.

The Courts themselves are making strides to move to remote working where possible and in the last few days the Business and Property Courts updated their protocol for remote hearings, with the judiciary reported to be acting quickly: RPC reports that Mr Justice Teare has very recently refused a request for an adjournment of a trial saying that “it is the duty of all parties to seek to co-operate to ensure that a remote hearing is possible.”.

RPC achieved settlement at a virtual mediation this week, where all of the parties and the mediator attended by video conference.

Speaking to Legal IT Insider recently about the ability of the Courts to move to a remote model, Tony Guise, a former Civil Justice Committee member and director of DisputesEfiling.com who has been involved in IT in the civil courts for the past 26 years, said that the technology in the Courts is not capable of delivering remote hearing and that the Lord Chancellor should require all civil cases to be referred to mediation, as in Greece for example, and have those managed online.

‘Urgent’ cases:

CPS

All custody cases, to include:

–              Overnight custody cases from police stations (inc. arrest warrants and breach of bail cases)

–              Productions from prisons (but custody trials not to proceed)

–              Applications to extend custody time limits

Terrorism and extradition (Westminster MC)

–              Arrest warrants issued under the Extradition Act

–              In hours and out of hours terrorism applications

 Central / Local Government

–              Civil applications relating to public health legislation, particularly under the Coronavirus (Emergency) Act 2020

 Police

–              Warrants of further detention (police and HMRC)

–              Closure order applications

–              Urgent applications for DVPOs

–              Urgent applications for rights of entry / search warrants