Chief High Court Judge Venning says to provide certainty to the profession and parties, no civil cases involving witnesses who need to give evidence within a courtroom will be required to proceed before the week commencing 25 May 2020 even if the alert level is reduced to Level 3 prior to that date.
In High Court Practice Note (3) - COVID-19, Justice Venning says alert level 4 is currently in place until at least 23 April 2020. During alert level 4 there are no criminal or civil trials.
"The Court is, however, continuing to deal with priority proceedings that meet the criteria identified by the Chief Justice as requiring to be dealt with during this period," he says "The Court is also prepared to deal with other proceedings, if those proceedings can be dealt with remotely.
Justice Venning says the High Court recognises the disruption and practical difficulties caused by the current situation to the profession and to the parties with civil cases scheduled to be heard by the Court during the period of the level 4 alert and within the weeks following the lifting of that alert.
"To provide certainty to the profession and parties no cases involving witnesses who need to give evidence within a courtroom will be required to proceed before the week commencing 25 May 2020 even if the alert level is reduced to Level 3 prior to that date.
"The Court will, however, endeavour to resume hearing other cases (including cases with witnesses) prior to 25 May. Such cases will need to be able to be conducted using remote means of participation such as AVL, VMR or telephone link. Counsel who wish to nominate their case to be heard in this way should therefore confer to ensure this can be done and then advise the Registry accordingly."
He says Duty Judges will review the files scheduled for hearing during the weeks leading up to 25 May 2020 and, where necessary, will issue minutes on those files providing for the re-allocation of fixture dates and revised timetable directions.
"The ability of parties to comply with timetabling directions or orders is likely to be compromised. Counsel and self-represented litigants are expected to confer and make reasonable accommodation and provide the Court with consented amendments to existing timetables.
"Only in the most exceptional cases where the parties are unable to agree and non-performance of timetable steps is causing material prejudice should disputed variations to timetabling directions be referred to the Court. Any party found to have been unreasonable in failing to agree to a variation can expect there will be cost consequences."
Justice Venning says the High Court will continue to deal with priority proceedings in accordance with the applicable criteria under the existing Practice Note for alert level 4. It will issue further updates as the situation develops.