In these unprecedented times, governments globally are reacting to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, including the availability of public services such as access to the courts for hearings and other judicial services such as filings and searches. The situation is changing all the time, but as of 1 April 2020, we confirm that the current status of the relevant courts in Guernsey, Ireland and Jersey is as below.
Generally, the Courts in each jurisdiction are continuing to operate, but with the priority given to urgent matters, with precautionary steps being taken including utilising technology where possible to limit the potential spread of the virus.
In line with the States of Guernsey advice around the full Island lockdown, the Courts have been reviewing their activity. The core functions undertaken within the Royal Court are to continue subject to revision to maximise safety for all persons involved. Staff are monitoring emails and if there is urgent business then the Courts are open for that. For the time being therefore, all contact with the Court will need to be by email. Further information and all relevant email addresses are on the Royal Court website.
The Royal Court has advised that:
- where hearings can be delayed, adjourned or similar then parties should look to do so;
- where the Judge can decide matters on the papers they will;
- it is looking into video conferencing where possible and other technology to maintain service; and
- any hearing requiring the sitting of Jurats - a permanent lay panel who can make findings of fact - is highly unlikely to happen.
From Monday, 30 March 2020 the Court will be conducting urgent Litigation Searches. Requests should be sent to StrongroomRoyalCourt@gov.gg.
Legalisation of documents:
From Monday, 30 March 2020 a limited Legalisation of Documents service is available for urgent matters. Documents may be delivered to the Court between 9am and 10am each day. The Court is aiming to provide a 24 hour turn around on this service.
The Contract Court will run but for essential items only. The position is being monitored on a daily basis and is therefore subject to change on short notice.
In the High Court, all cases returnable in the week of 30 March 2020 were originally adjourned generally with liberty to re-enter. Further guidance, issued on 29 March 2020, made clear that anything still listed for the week of 30 March 2020 would go ahead subject to social distancing protocols. We understand that no new trials will be listed for this legal term, which ends on 3 April 2020. The position will be reviewed again at that time. High Court judges are available to hear urgent business falling within certain categories including injunctions, judicial review and applications for examinership.
Appeal hearings listed in both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court up to 3 April 2020 have been adjourned by consent. Any appeal hearing in which no consent is forthcoming will be adjourned unless particular urgency can be demonstrated.
Court offices currently remain open for specified urgent business, but an appointment is needed to visit. Users of the courts are being encouraged to deal, so far as possible, by email or post.
The majority of court searches can be done online and are still available. Searches that require attendance at the Court offices are currently more difficult.
The Royal Court will continue to determine all civil cases that are urgent. Where possible the Court will direct that counsel and parties need not attend in person and that they address the Court by telephone or video link. Non-urgent civil cases involving witnesses will not be heard until the end of April. Additional Greffier Substitutes have been appointed to deal with directions applications.
The Royal Court is striving to avoid the need for Counsel to attend in person where the subject matter is appropriate and the technology permits. Where it is necessary for counsel or parties to attend then social distancing guidance will be followed and the two largest court rooms only will be used in order to facilitate that.
For new matters (where ordinarily an initial appearance is required at a general Court sitting on a Friday afternoon) the cases listed for such a hearing (or an adjournment of it) will continue to be heard in the normal manner. Parties are urged to agree appropriate procedural steps in advance so that matters can be dealt with by consent wherever possible. New proceedings commenced by ex parte Representation will be dealt with on the papers where possible.
Convenyancing – Contracts Court:
This is continuing to sit. It is mandatory for the passing of contracts to be undertaken by Power of Attorney (no members of the public are to attend) with only on attorney from each firm to attend in person.
Court and bankruptcy (desastre) searches:
Court searches and the desastre check service are continuing but there may be some delay depending on volume and timing of requests.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.