It was announced on Friday 27th March, amongst further Government announcements, that civil litigation rule makers are considering urgent reforms to ease the burden on litigators, who are struggling to meet deadlines and Court orders.
Changes to Civil Procedure Rules due to the coronavirus
The Civil Procedure Rule Committee (CPRC) declared that the rule amendments were “under urgent consideration” and could be made imminently. This is a direct response to the disruption Covid-19 is currently having on Court work. Those solicitors practising in contentious areas, have highlighted their inability to work remotely, without having the means to meet with clients to sign documents for issuing, serving and filing.
It has been observed that insurers and claimant law firms in the area of personal injury have taken matters into their own hands by agreeing to four-week extensions to freeze limitation dates in accordance with the ‘buffer’ rules.
The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, in his recent talk with the House of Commons Justice Committee, advised that “flexibility is the order of the day” in civil litigation. He further added that “if a limitation period is missed on a PI claim then circumstances of Covid-19 clearly would be a material factor for a court to consider.”
However, it seems that in light of agreements being reached between parties that more needs to be done by the CPRC to ensure that this is the case in all areas of civil litigation.
Gordon Exhall, Barrister and blogger, has openly commented on the ridiculousness of parties operating against a backdrop whereby they are prohibited, by the Civil Procedure Rules, from agreeing more than a 28 day extension to meet deadlines. He further set out that:
“it is ludicrous that parties who cannot meet time limits because of extraordinary circumstances faced sanctions.”
There has been general widespread support for changes to the Civil Procedure Rules to come into effect immediately, which would allow general extensions of time and temporarily suspend the requirement that a party sign their own witness statement and disclosure statement. Maybe a provision for now should be included in a statement that the document has been read to or has been seen by the party whose statement it is, which would be sufficient for the purposes of proceedings.
It seems, in such unprecedented times, the whole of our legal system is plagued with the question of:
How do we continue to function as close to normal, when simple measures to assist are not being put into place?
In short if these issues are not addressed sooner rather than later, the Courts will have their work cut out in processing a flood of relief from sanctions applications, along with their normal workloads.