Monday, 4 March 2019

New Civil Procedural Rules: Open Hearings & Copying in Opponent on Communications with Court

New procedural rules are coming into force next month for civil court cases in England and Wales. You'll find them in the Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2019 SI 2019/342 and practice directions made under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998. Chapter and verse of the practice directions can be found  at https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil or, if you prefer a quiet life and are not averse to a bit of cheek here and an insult there, stick around and allow me to guide you through the more important changes, especially if you are without a lawyer, in the coming weeks.

Hearings  - including those by telephone and video - are opening up. As from 6 April 2019, cases which are currently now heard in private at court - so no media, no members of the public resting their feet between Primark and Tesco, no nosey neighbours -  will be open to all and sundry. This will include claims for repossession of homes by mortgage lenders, claims for repossession of homes by landlords on account of rent arrears and enforcement applications for such things as charging orders and third party debt orders, all of which now start off and almost invariably continue as being in private. But a party to the proceedings can ask for the hearing to be in private although it will initially be listed to be in public. The court must allow privacy if, for example, the court decides this to be necessary in the interests of justice or the hearing involves confidential information and publicity would damage it. The court is also given power to order that the identity of a party to the case or a witness should not be disclosed if that is necessary in order to secure the proper administration of justice (sounds very grand) and protect their interests. Where the court orders that a hearing should become private or a party or witness should not be  identified, then its order must be published at www,judiciary.uk and someone who is not a party to the proceedings (perhaps the editor of the Daily Mail!) can apply to attend the hearing and make submissions or apply to cancel the order.

An important scheme is introduced about communications to the court.  They're trying to put an end to one party writing to the court slagging off the other party but without supplying a copy of the communication to that other party. It happens a lot. It's going to stop. As from 6 April 2019, any communication  which contains reference to some matter of substance or procedure must be disclosed to the other side and the court told this has been done. Otherwise, the communication will be bounced back by the court and where there is a serious breach of the scheme or there are repetitive breaches, the court could impose a severe sanction against the sender like striking out their claim or defence. But this will not apply to communications that are routine, uncontentious and administrative (like 'Here's my court fee.') And it will also not apply if there is a compelling reason for withholding a copy of the communication from the other side and that reason is explained to the court in the communication. The court won't be lightly satisfied that a compelling reason really does exist.

More to follow.