Message from the PIBA Chair: 21 May 2020
This is my update on what PIBA has been doing in the last two weeks as lockdown has continued.
The Civil Justice Council commissioned a rapid consultation on the effects of Covid-19 and the lockdown on civil justice generally, with a focus on remote hearings. Thank you to those of you who responded to my encouragement and submitted your own survey responses to that. We attended a (remote) meeting with the researchers and then submitted a paper on behalf of PIBA as a whole. A copy can be found here. They are due to report on Friday. We will take stock of that when they do.
PI hearing numbers
Quite separately, we are working with the Bar Council to try to assess the downturn in PI hearings, (i) so that the true picture can be seen and pressure applied to HMCTS and others to increase the numbers, and (ii) so that the Bar Council can continue to illustrate to government the problems the profession is facing from the downturn in civil work and try to improve government financial assistance. Several sets of chambers helped us with data from which we can conclude that, overall, hearing numbers are down by about 50% across the whole period. Even allowing for a modest improvement in the last three weeks, hearings are still down by about 43%. Our analysis is here. We will deploy it as far and as forcefully as we can. Huge thanks are due to Anna Symington and Gareth McAloon for their work on this.
We have been working with the Bar Council to try to get civil listing priorities for the County Courts adjusted, so that more hearings take place. Some success can be seen in the revised priorities from 18th May (here) but we will continue to press for further revisions so that, for example, there is a positive presumption that CCMCs etc should take place. We are told that the senior judiciary are alive to the threat to the livelihood of the junior Bar, and they have asked for continuing feedback on listing priorities, which we will give.
Local guidance and protocols
Most DCJs are grappling with the ongoing lockdown as best they can. Some have set up local working parties for listing and remote working. PIBA has members on those. We have been making suggestions based on your feedback to us. In the last few days we have had revised protocols or guidance from DCJs in Manchester, Birmingham and the West Country. The Manchester one is comprehensive, and includes useful suggestions on remote advocacy and conducting video trials. Those and other guidance documents are all on the PIBA website here. Please familiarise yourself with them.
We have all had to become familiar with Teams, Skype for Business, Zoom, Starleaf and more. HMCTS have accelerated the roll-out of their own, bespoke video hearing system CVP (Cloud Video Platform). Mostly used in criminal courts so far, we are trying to find out details of its introduction in our sphere. Some of you may have used it already. We will let you know more, and provide training, when we can.
Since I last wrote, HHJ Melissa Clarke, Jayne Adams QC, Simon Fox QC and Mr Justice Edis have all undertaken live-streamed webinars for us. They were all excellent, and we are very grateful. They can be watched here. Next week’s webinars on the Ogden Tables (by Emma Corkill) are over-subscribed and you will have been emailed about the waiting lists already. On 3rd June we will have David Heaton QC and James Rowley QC on provisional damages. On 17th June Charles Bagot QC, Huw Davies and James Prestell will talk about remote negotiations and hearings - latest developments and practical tips. Please join us for those.
Steven Snowden QC