CJC Report into Covid-19

Posted by · June 05, 2020 10:02 AM


The Civil Justice Council report on the impact of Covid-19 on civil court users has been released and can be found here.

Message from the PIBA Chair: 21 May 2020

Posted by · May 20, 2020 9:45 PM


This is my update on what PIBA has been doing in the last two weeks as lockdown has continued.

CJC consultation

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.

Listing priorities

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.

Kind regards

Steven Snowden QC
PIBA Chair

Message from the PIBA Chair: 4 May 2020

Posted by · May 04, 2020 12:24 PM


Survey and CJC review of remote hearings

The Civil Justice Council has just announced a review of the changes necessitated by the Covid-19 lockdown, and in particular the use of remote hearings.

The link is here.

It asks for responses from individuals, so can I please encourage you each to respond.  The deadline is Friday 15th May.  We we also be seeking ways to have PIBA’s collective view heard as part of this review.  It is vital that we all have our say about the current and future arrangements.

On Wednesday this week at 4pm we have Her Honour Judge Melissa Clarke giving us “A view from the Bench”. Please could you send any questions you would like Her Honour to answer to [email protected]

And on Thursday at 4pm we have Jayne Adams QC’s “Quantum Update”, deferred from 22nd April when issues beyond our control with the MS Teams platform prevented it taking place.

Links to join each of these webinars will be emailed directly to you.

Kind regards

Steven Snowden QC
Chair of PIBA

Message from the PIBA Chair: 20 April 2020

Posted by · April 20, 2020 5:27 PM

I recognise that these will be difficult times for many of us.  I am writing to bring you up to date with what PIBA is doing.
1. We have been in touch with DCJs for two reasons.
(a) The first is to try to find out whether there is a consistent picture nationally of how the courts are approaching PI work during this period of lockdown.  The short answer is that there is not.  We have had encouraging responses from some DCJs (particularly those on the Northern and North Eastern Circuits) indicating that they are trying to carry on with as much work as possible and to work with the Bar and Solicitors in continuing to list hearings.  Other courts are doing what they can, but many are limited by resources, perhaps do not have such a cohesive core group of court users, or are unable to be as efficiently organised.  Some courts appear able to do very little at present.  We are collating the various local guidance documents, protocols and practice directions which we can obtain on our website here:  You'll also find there Master Fontaine's Guidance. Please continue to give us feedback through the PIBA circuit reps.
(b) The second is to encourage them to keep as many PI hearings listed and effective as can fairly and properly be achieved.  The most recent message from the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls in this regard is on the PIBA Covid Guidance page and can also be found here.  PIBA is carefully watching developments in those courts which are most advanced in continuing to work.  Some are managing to list applications, CCMCs and Stage 3 hearings by telephone, albeit with longer time estimates and fewer hearings listed each day.  As advocates we know that those attempts will bear fruit only if we assist in preparation (including ensuring that there is a helpful and concise pdf bundle for the court) and tailor our advocacy appropriately.  If those attempts are successful, we will encourage other DCJs to adopt that approach.  We don’t see that a blanket adjournment of, for example, all CCMCs should be necessary.  Further, we know that pilot schemes in Manchester and other places hope to have trials of appropriate fast track cases by video link.  Those will require further and different skills from us, and much closer co-operation between parties and with courts to make them successful, but I am sure they can be.  We will keep you informed of their progress and, if they work, will encourage other courts to adopt the same approach.  Some chambers are putting together demonstrations on how to run a video trial - we will share them with you when we can.  Our webinar on paperless working is a useful resource:
2. The Barristers’ Benevolent Association and the Inns of Court have set up an emergency hardship fund and an appeal for donations.  The link to the appeal is here:  PIBA itself has used some of the money saved by being forced to cancel the Annual Conference to make a donation.  I would encourage all PIBA members to consider doing so, if you are able.  The BBA exists to benefit all barristers who need it - if you need its help, the link is here:
3. The next in our excellent series of continuing education webinars will be this Wednesday, 22 April, at 4pm and will be Jayne Adams QC giving a quantum update.  Jayne has kindly agreed to do a webinar of the talk which she would otherwise have delivered at our Annual Conference.  Details of how to join the webinar will be circulated by email and will be on the PIBA website here.
4. We are still planning events for after what we hope will be the end of the lockdown, including our Annual Lecture, Northern Circuit conference and London Winter conference later this year, and our Annual Weekend Conference in Oxford next Spring.  By way of advance warning, the dates for that will be 26-28 March 2021.  Easter is early next year, and that is the weekend before Easter, but is the only one which St Catherine’s can give us.  Please be aware of the dates if booking holidays.
5. The Court of Appeal are due to hear the adjourned Swift v Carpenter appeal (on accommodation costs) by video link in the week commencing 22nd June.
6. Finally, a reminder about the Ministry of Justice advert of vacancies on the CPRC which we alerted you to on 15th April.  It would be good to have PIBA members on that committee.  Applications close at noon on 28th April.
Kind regards,
Steven Snowden QC
Chair of PIBA


Message from the New PIBA Chair

Posted by · April 09, 2020 6:00 PM

The very first thing I should do is thank and pay tribute to my predecessor, Darryl Allen QC, for his leadership over the last two years, and in particular his very public leadership and investment of time over the last few weeks.  And the second is to thank Sarah Crowther QC for stepping up to be Vice Chair alongside me for the next two years.
Thank you too if you were able to attend our virtual AGM on Monday.  It was interesting to see that we had more people logged in this year than typically remain for the AGM on a Saturday afternoon in the lecture theatre at Catz during the Annual Weekend.  Perhaps something to consider for next year.
As I said at the AGM, it is sobering to note that PIBA has just turned 25 years old - formed in 1995 in response to the introduction of CFAs which, at the time, were feared to be the greatest threat to its existence that the PI Bar had ever faced.  Now, aged 25, we’re facing other threats, but I am convinced we will work through them.
If you were unable to attend the AGM, I am emailing to let you know what PIBA is doing, and will do.
Action in the short term
(i)  Covid-19 and the Courts lockdown  
Now that we have got over the immediate shock, and can see that different courts are in different ways revising their systems and trying to work out what they can still do, our priority will be to try to keep as much PI work as possible going.  
I fully recognise the concerns articulated by some PIBA members and some in the judiciary that HMCTS might use success in “coping” with remote hearings now to drive through a programme of closing courts, reducing judicial numbers still further, and replacing in-person hearings with remote ones when we get back to “normal”.  Judicial concerns are beautifully expressed by an anonymous family judge here:   I agree with those.  The successful undertaking of a remote commercial trial, widely publicised by those who were involved, does not for one moment mean that justice would be done in many of the sort of cases we do, if they were to be tried by video-link.
But there were already many aspects of our interlocutory work which were done by phone, and many more could be by phone or video.  With careful thought and pre-planning, we would expect that, at least in the interim, most applications and CCMCs could be.  Also Stage 3 assessments and the more straightforward of the Fast Track trials.  And, where the parties can agree and technology permits, some of the more complex hearings and trials.  We recognise that PIBA members will want as much of our work as possible to continue.
To that end, I’ve written to all the DCJs to ask that PIBA is kept updated with their local directions and announcements.  We will share that information as a resource on the PIBA website.  We have offered to them all that we will engage in trying to set up workable protocols to keep our cases going through the Courts.  Not all have yet responded, some have warmly, some lukewarm.  We will keep you updated.  
I am inviting PIBA members to give us feedback from next week, through our Circuit Reps, about how local Courts are working in PI cases, and suggestions for improvement.
Those Circuit Reps are:
North Eastern:  Stuart Jamieson - [email protected] 
Western:  Rachel Russell - [email protected]
Midland:  Gareth McAloon - [email protected]
South Eastern:  Meghann McTague - [email protected]
Northern:  Matthew Hooper - [email protected]
Wales and Chester:  Theo Huckle QC - [email protected]

They will collate replies so that we can see what is happening and take appropriate action.
(ii)  Continuing education
Huge thanks are due to those who had planned our Oxford weekend, those responsible for the seminars which were in any event planned for this term, and the speakers, for working together and pulling off the magnificent feast of continuing education by webinar which we are now enjoying.  Details are on the website.
Action in the medium term
At the AGM, I set out what would (in normal times) have been some of our priorities for the next two years.
-  Getting PIBA represented more strongly on the Bar Council, the Civil Justice Committee, the CPRC, etc - not to seek positions for their own sake but so that we can try to get ahead of the game, see what reform proposals are coming our way, and by being involved at an earlier stage perhaps remove some of the problems.
-  Improving our communications with PIBA members.  Updating the form and content of the website to make it more user-friendly and make it a go-to resource for PI practitioners.  Updates to members about what PIBA is doing, not just about events.
-  Carrying on and building upon our excellent education and training.  Embracing the video technology and recording of seminars which have been forced upon us.  So far as possible, extending that to our other events and lectures. Increasing the number of seminars on soft skills, ethics, wellbeing, practice-building and practice management which have been so well received to date.
-  Maintaining our focus on the junior PI Bar, as that is where the pinch is felt with every set of reforms which has been proposed to date.
-  Not being afraid to intervene as an SBA in appropriate cases, but ensuring that we have crystal-clear aims, objectives and limitations when we do.
That’s it ...
Apologies that this has been a long email.  Well done for getting this far!
We will keep you updated over the next few weeks.
Kind regards
Steven Snowden QC
Chair of PIBA