Civil rule-makers have finally responded to the coronavirus crisis with the granting of more time for stages in litigation.
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed the amendment of the rule allowing parties to agree extensions of up to 28 days without having to seek the court’s permission. A new practice direction provides for this to be doubled to 56 days.
Any further extension, whether agreed by the parties or on application by a party, will require the permission of the court.
The new practice direction states that the court will take into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic when considering applications for the extension. The revised deadline affects compliance with directions, the adjournment of hearings, and applications for relief from sanctions. It will remain in place until 30 October.
The revision is the first acknowledgment from those in charge that the system must adapt to pressures facing litigators.
In the meantime, lawyers and insurers have made their own agreements to relax adherence to court orders and not raise objections when deadlines are missed.
The new practice direction mirrors the agreement made between the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and the Forum of Insurance Lawyers. The joint guidance also includes measures to accept service and evidence by email and to use some form of video conferencing for medical examinations.
The Association of British Insurers and Thompsons Solicitors last week drew up a protocol to freeze limitation periods and allow more time for defences to be filed. The protocol has so far been adopted by 141 law firms and 17 insurers and will be in place until at least 20 April.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.