The High Court has issued what is thought to be the first ‘Covid-19 direction’, displacing the normal rule that parties can only agree up to 28-day extensions of time.
According to Adam Korn, the barrister at London set 7BR who secured it, Master Davison granted the claimant’s request for permission for the parties in O’Driscoll v FIVE Bianchi SPA to agree extensions of time for up to 56 days by consent without further order from the court in light of Covid-19.
CPR.3.8(4) provides that parties can only agree up to 28-day extensions providing that they do not put at risk any hearing date.
This direction was specifically sought by the claimant’s representatives in the absence of any formal guidance by the Civil Procedure Rules in light of the pandemic.
Mr Korn said: “It is not yet known exactly how Covid-19 may affect the operation of the court system in the UK. However, the media has reported how it has already started to affect the practice of courts in other jurisdictions.
“For example, the US Supreme Court has already started delaying important hearings listed in late March and early April 2020 due to Covid-19.”
The case is a high-value subtle brain injury claim arising out of an accident caused by a defective Bianchi road bicycle, in which the claimant is alleged to have suffered serious injuries.
Each side has instructed seven experts and it is listed for a five-day quantum-only trial next year.
Mr Korn was instructed by Thomas Jervis at Leigh Day.
The courts are staying open, according to HM Courts & Tribunals Service, although on social media litigators of all stripes have been questioning how this can continue.
Alison Padfield QC of 4 New Square tweeted: “Courts & tribunals must close for all but emergency matters (& those should be by telephone & video) & we need emergency legislation *automatically* suspending limitation periods for civil claims & extending procedural time limits.”
In a statement issued this afternoon, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, said it was “not realistic to suppose that it will be business as usual in any jurisdiction, but it is of vital importance that the administration of justice does not grind to a halt”.
He continued: “Given the rapidly evolving situation, there is an urgent need to increase the use of telephone and video technology immediately to hold remote hearings where possible.
“Emergency legislation is being drafted which is likely to contain clauses that expand the powers in criminal courts to use technology in a wider range of hearings. The Civil Procedure Rules and Family Procedure Rules provide for considerable flexibility.
“Our immediate aim is to maintain a service to the public, ensure as many hearings in all jurisdictions can proceed and continue to deal with all urgent matters.”