Firms could be allocated blocks of time in the magistrates' court dedicated to hearing their cases as part of work to keep the justice system running safely during the pandemic.
HM Courts and Tribunals has told the Gazette that it hopes to begin testing block listing in the south east by the end of this month. All of a firm’s cases could be heard in one go to keep the number of people in court to a minimum. The allocated time would include audio and video hearings so that practitioners do not have to repeatedly log in and out.
The pilot will cover ‘priority’ cases being heard since the country went into lockdown. These include all custody cases, civil applications relating to public health, safety and utility legislation, and urgent applications for domestic violence protection orders.
An HMCTS spokesperson said: 'Block listing means that cases prioritised and listed by the judiciary, including domestic abuse, can be heard back-to-back - streamlining court time for criminal law firms.'
National firm Tuckers' Kent branch revealed last week that it was hoping to take part. Medway partner Simon Holmes said: ‘We are looking forward to working with HMCTS in a “block listing” pilot. A dedicated court will hear only our matters on a date soon to be announced. In order to enable the courts to function effectively within the social distancing rules, it makes sense to limit the number of professionals in court at any one time. One way of achieving this – perhaps – is by the courts listing matters “by firm”. We will be contacting our clients in the coming days in order to ensure that we are fully prepared for the listing of their cases.’
To maintain safety in line with official guidance, HMCTS has kept a network of around 157 priority courts and tribunals open for essential face-to-face hearings. This represents 42% of the 370 Crown, magistrates', county and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales.
New videoconferencing equipment is being introduced to 60 magistrates’ courts and 48 Crown courts to conduct criminal hearings such as custody time limits and sentencing hearings remotely.