Lockdown litigation - will my case be affected by Covid-19?

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Lockdown 3 is upon us, the Tier system looms on the horizon and in all aspects of life, we are finding new ways to carry on. 

If you are in the midst of litigation or about to embark on a claim, you may question " what will happen to my case?"   You will want to know how the changing social environment will impact on the running of the claim - either as Claimant or Defendant. 

At Ashfords we can reassure you that despite the challenges we all continue to face, we will do all we can to ensure that the smooth running of your case is not affected, whether those court proceedings have already begun or you are contemplating bringing a claim in the imminent future.

Client meetings

We act for clients across the Country and internationally and face to face meetings were not always appropriate even before Covid-19 launched itself as us.  Consequently, we are very adept at building close relationships from a safe distance.

At Ashfords we are very happy to discuss your case over the telephone. We can also have virtual face to face meetings. The most commonplace formats are "Zoom" and "Microsoft Teams", both of which are now routinely used in both the private and business world.  Alternatively we can just Skype or Facetime you if you have a smart phone - whatever system works for you will work for us.

These facilities have revolutionised the way that life is now conducted and after a few moments, it can feel to the users that there is no distance or barrier between those attending -  it has become the new normal even for very lengthy client meetings. In a real emergency we may still meet with clients but there does need to be a justifiable  reason to do so - on a case by case basis. 

Disclosure delays

Inevitably, due to lockdown and social distancing measures in all aspects of life, obtaining information and documentation from parties may take longer than before the virus was upon us. 

Whilst we must be reasonable in this respect, should we believe that delays are unacceptable and the virus is being used as an excuse to stall proceedings or the disclosure of important information then we can take action.  We will not hesitate in issuing a court application against your opponent (or even a third party) if they hold the material that we need and are entitled to yet they refuse to release it.

When faced with a court order against them and an order for costs even the strictest socially distancing measures may not stop the party from providing us with what is within their reach. This being so, we appreciate that from all sides, obtaining information may take a greater amount of time than we would hope. Communication, cooperation with openness is the best way for parties to conduct themselves in all respects.

Remote Mediation meetings

Social distancing measures are not curtailing the mediation process.  Throughout lockdown we have conducted many remote mediations where the client has been either with us or in the comfort of their own home - whilst their opponent is likewise, in their own environment.

In many ways, this physical separation of the parties is helpful in removing the pressures of the day and enabling the parties to focus on what really counts - reaching a satisfactory compromise in the case to avoid the matter running further and heading towards trial.

Remote Court hearings

Where Court hearings are necessary they have continued to take place - even throughout the pandemic.

For many years, routine procedural Court hearings have taken place by telephone - mainly to ensure that the cost of Court proceedings was kept as low as possible without affecting the conduct of  the case.  On 18 March 2020 the Lord Chief Justice advised that remote attendance should be the default position for Court hearings.  Judges have been advised to utilise telephone and video hearings and that Skype for Business has been installed on the Court laptops as used by the Judiciary and Court staff.  The courts will propose how hearings are to be conducted remotely and  where appropriate, the parties should provide electronic bundles for the Court.

This remote system will certainly continue through 2021 and it is hard to see any justification for a total return to a physical court room presence.  The costs of attending court are much reduced as travelling time is eliminated.  Waiting time also will be significantly reduced.  In addition, the convenience for the parties and reduced stress of giving evidence in the Court room is not to be understated.  The Court system has a large backlog of case but over recent months, things are improving and the Justice system is continuing to  catch up with itself.

Social Distancing does not mean isolation from your legal team

At Ashfords we are readily available to you by telephone, Zoom or Teams and we are confident that the geographical barriers will not in any way reflect upon our relationship with you or the legal service offered.  We have found that the ability to discuss important and sensitive matters from the comfort of a clients own home or home office in many ways has empowered our clients whilst in no way detracting from our service to them.

Lockdown does not mean locked out - we are here for you!

If you are contemplating bringing a new claim or wish to just talk through a legal matter then please do not hesitate to contact us at the Disputed Wills and Trusts Team on 01392 337000.

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