The County Courts: the show is going on

14 April 2020

Although possession claims are currently stayed (under an amendment to the rules) the courts have recently issued guidance (that can be updated or amended) on which cases are likely to be given priority and potentially heard during the coronavirus restrictions.

The guidance has created two priority categories: Priority one and Priority two.

Priority one covers cases that must go ahead and include:

  • injunctions (and court hearings for without notice injunctions)
  • anti-social behaviour / harassment injunctions (and court hearings for without notice injunctions)
  • production of persons in custody to court following detention under a power of arrest
  • committal hearings for breaches of injunctions
  • applications to suspend enforcement of existing possession orders.

Priority one also includes:

  • any applications for court orders in case listed for trial in the next three months
  • any application where there is a substantial hearing listed in the next month
  • all multi-track (usually two day or more) hearings where parties agree it is urgent (subject to the courts determining priority for urgency on a case by case basis)
  • appeals in all of these cases.

Therefore landlords will be able to continue with all work on injunction cases.

Possession orders that are subject to applications for suspension will be heard.

It is considered unlikely that most bailiffs will execute possession warrants for now.

Possession trials might still go ahead, although, with (a) the requirement for the parties to agree that the trial is urgent and (b) the courts discretion in deciding whether a particular trial is urgent enough to be heard, coupled with the need for cross-examination of witnesses in most trials, there is still a major doubt that many possession trials can go ahead.

Even if a particular trial does go ahead, it is likely that the process of the trial might attract an appeal, on the basis it was unfair (especially where there are litigants in person or parties with health problems).

Priority two covers cases that might be done and would include any trials listed for one day or less, but only if the parties agree it is urgent (subject to the courts determining priority for urgency on a case by case basis).

The courts will continue to deal with applications lodged by parties that can be dealt with by telephone or on the papers i.e. without the parties having to appear in front of a judge.

There is an added difficulty in that all courts currently fall into one of three categories:

  • open courts – which are open to the public for essential face-to-face hearings
  • staffed courts – where staff and judges may work but they aren’t open to the public
  • suspended courts – which are temporarily closed.

The latest list of open, staffed and closed courts can be found here.

In summary, there are 157 open courts, which is 157 of out of 370 county, crown and magistrates courts.

If you have any questions or require advice, please contact Ian Rattenbury or Jonathan Parker or another member of the Social Housing Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at April 2020.