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Impact of COVID-19 measures on the civil justice system

Monday 15 June 2020

The Civil Justice Council has published their report and recommendations into the impact of COVID-19 measures on the civil justice system, including possession cases, following a review that was launched in May.

Review

The aims of the review were to understand the impact of the arrangements necessitated by COVID-19 on court users; make practical recommendations to address any issues over the short to medium term; and inform thinking about a longer-term review.

Possession hearings

The report dedicates a section to managing the resumption of possession hearings. The main conclusion being that remote hearings for case management hearings in cases where both sides are represented would be suitable, however possession hearings were felt to raise numerous difficulties and are unsuitable for remote determination.

Responses

Suggestions made by respondents to the review to enable possession hearings to resume included:

  • Strengthening the current Pre-Action Protocol used by social landlords in possession cases to make it fit for use in private rented sector cases. This would require landlords and lenders to demonstrate that they have taken proactive steps to secure legal advice for tenants and generalist advice (this would need to be funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) to assist with the resolution of any underlying issues with accessing welfare benefits. An expansion in the availability of legal advice to meet demand would also be needed.
  • Temporary relaxation of Housing Act 1988 Ground 8, to reflect the circumstances created by the pandemic and protect public health.
  • Urgent creation of a Civil Justice Council expert working group representing all stakeholders to develop a consistent mechanism for managing possession hearings across England and Wales

Next steps

Aside from the need for further evaluation on publication Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls and Chair of the independent civil justice council and Head of Civil Justice said:

Quote mark

In particular responding to concerns expressed by a number of consultees about the consequences of the current stay on housing possession claims ending. I have established a cross-sector working group, which is being chaired by Mr Justice Knowles, the chair of the Civil Justice Council’s Access to Justice Sub Committee, to help address these concerns.

Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls and Chair of the independent civil justice council and Head of Civil Justice

As reported by ARLA Propertymark on Friday 5 June 2020, Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, announced that the suspension of new evictions would be extended by another two months until 23 August 2020.

ARLA Propertymark is engaging with MHCLG and MoJ on the Pre-Action Protocol and have long advocated for reforms to the court system for housing.

The full report and recommendations