Law360 (March 16, 2020, 10:03 PM EDT) -- UPDATED November 23, 2020, 12:51 PM GMT | As courts across the region take measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, some are restricting access and altering their procedures. Here is a roundup of changes.
This list will be updated continually with new information.
European Court of Justice & General Court of the European Union
Both the ECJ and the General Court have opened up for hearings again. The courts can issue a letter certifying that a hearing is going on for any representatives needing it to come to the Luxembourg courthouse given current travel restrictions, but under certain conditions parties who cannot travel may attend by videoconference.
The courts now require individuals to have their temperature checked before entering the courthouse and wear masks while moving around the building.
The courts will impose "the strictest sanity measures" following rules set by the Luxembourg government. Parties attending court will have to keep an adequate physical distance from one another and wear masks outside of the hearing rooms. All tables, microphones and headsets are being disinfected between hearings and lawyers have been asked to bring their own gowns.
Time limits for the General Court have returned to normal, but as national lockdowns increased in November the court emphasized that parties needing an extension must seek one "in good time." The court also urged parties to consider whether hearings are actually necessary in their cases given the current difficulties involved in holding them.
The ECJ's procedural time limits are also running as usual, but the court granted a one month extension for parties to file written observations on requests for preliminary rulings filed as of Nov. 16. The extension does not apply to referrals to preliminary references being handled under the court's urgent or accelerated procedures.
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights is continuing with its operations by using video conferencing and electronic communication under the current French lockdown. The court does not plan to adjust procedures or deadlines under the new restrictions.
European Union Intellectual Property Office
The European Union Intellectual Property Office automatically extended all time limits for procedural deadlines through May 18. The extension covers deadlines for any proceedings before the office, including the boards of appeal. The office has put out guidance on missed deadlines and seeking case-by-case extensions where possible in different proceedings.
The EUIPO has also updated its electronic communications offices, adding an option for users without access to fax machines as part of its efforts to eliminate the need for faxing.
European Free Trade Association Court
The court has begun hearing cases remotely during the pandemic. Its extended three-month deadline for written observations to be submitted to the court will return to two months for all cases as of Aug. 1
» England and Wales
The courts have been deemed an essential public service and plan to continue operating as previously scheduled despite new lockdowns across the U.K. Anyone attending court is required to wear a face mask inside the building and the use of remote hearings will continue to help reduce physical contact.
Codes that allow court visitors to check in under the government test-and-trace app are being posted in the courts and users are being encouraged to scan when they attend court.
Now the government has moved to set up new temporary courts to tackle backlogs due to court closures during lockdown and limited capacity created by the current arrangements to allow for physical distancing for trials. There are now 16 locations, dubbed Nightingale courts, hearing a range of civil, family, tribunal and criminal matters that don't require the defendant to be kept in custody.
Several crown courts are also testing out extended operating hours in a bid to help reduce backlogs that built up during lockdown.
The country's Supreme Court is now conducting cases entirely by video link for the first time in its history after closing its building to the public.
Jury trials have been allowed to resume at 79 crown courts and five Nightingale courts as well as four other court locations. New jury trials can start by following new arrangements designed to keep jurors, lawyers and the press safely separated. The courts are in the process of installing plexiglass barriers in hundreds of courtrooms and jury rooms to facilitate the process.
The courts have also launched a new video platform for criminal courts to allow all parties to join hearings remotely over secure connections, which is now online in magistrates courts and crown courts as well as being extended to other operations. The courts are not, however, using the technology for jury trials.
Magistrates courts, which deal with extradition matters and initial proceedings in criminal cases, have resumed hearing most types of cases again, nearly returning to pre-lockdown levels.
The Court of Appeal continues to prioritize urgent cases but has resumed handling routine operations as well. Most civil hearings continue to be handled remotely, though some cases are being heard in person with social distancing.
Housing possession cases have been allowed to resume after a six-month stoppage.
» Northern Ireland
The courts in Northern Ireland have continued to try to move beyond dealing with only urgent matters to more regular case management.
The courts have only been hearing matters using remote technology and have continued to tell parties and lawyers that they should only attend court if specifically told to do so.
Jury trials have started up again at several crown courts.
Scotland's courts and tribunals plan to remain open regardless of what level of lockdown restrictions the government implements from the country's five-tier program.
Anyone who needs to attend a hearing, including jurors, witnesses and defendants, should continue to do so. Visitors must now wear face coverings in public areas of all court and tribunal buildings.
The High Court has resumed holding trials using new procedures to protect participants. The changes involve selecting the 15 jurors and at least five substitutes remotely before the trials begin. The courts have also arranged to spread out proceedings over multiple courtrooms to separate the parties, jury and media in order to provide adequate distancing.
The courts have also begun using movie theater multiplexes to hold jury trials using video feeds in order to return to pre-pandemic levels while allowing for jurors to maintain sufficient distance from one another.
The Scottish courts have begun holding online hearings as part of a virtual court pilot program that could become a permanent part of the court's operations, the courts service said. The Court of Session, the Inner House and the Outer House have begun listing cases for online hearings.
Scotland is also looking at extending the use of virtual trials to handle summary criminal cases after initial efforts proved successful.
The courts also plan to allow other matters in commercial courts, insolvency cases and some other kinds of litigation to begin proceeding remotely if there's a good reason to avoid delays and most of the evidence can be provided digitally.
But Colin Sutherland, the lord president of the Court of Session, said the new legislation would be needed to fully address the problems created by the need to maintain physical distancing at the courthouses and the backlog created by the pandemic.
After the introduction of new restrictions in Ireland, the judiciary plans to keep the courts open with safety measures but as much work as possible will be handled remotely.
After briefly pausing the seating of new juries, the courts plan to resume handling a limited number of criminal jury trials.
Anyone attending court must wear a face mask, maintain a two-meter distance and abide by other in-court instructions.
The Supreme Court and the courts of appeal have largely switched to remote hearings, and that will continue.
All written judgments in the Irish courts will be delivered electronically to the parties and posted online as soon as possible.
The French courts will remain open during the new lockdown. People can attend court for matters that can't be handled remotely. The courts have instituted measures to ensure physical distancing and visitors must wear a mask.
The judiciary had already pushed for the use of videoconferencing hearings amid the crisis and the Supreme Court has begun issuing decisions remotely for the first time. The court has adjusted its rules to allow for most parties to participate remotely. The judiciary has called on the courts to enforce broader requirements on wearing masks outside the home.
Italy has also announced a program to allow materials to be submitted electronically in criminal trials.
Germany's Federal Administrative Court has resumed operations with a number of precautions to reduce contact. The court is also collecting the contact details of anyone attending hearings in a voluntary process to allow for contact tracing. Foreign visitors are not currently allowed.
The Federal Court of Justice is currently only available to employees but court hearings remain unaffected. The court has noted that access to space in the building is somewhat limited by social distancing precautions and that some visits may require advance registration. The court's library has reopened with limited capacity, so visitors should consider whether attending proceedings or the library is necessary.
The Finnish justice ministry has said that some cases may be delayed and warned that it may take longer than usual to process matters in the courts.
Finland's Supreme Court said it would be able to continue with its core business as many matters can be resolved in writing, but warned that non-urgent matters may face delays. The court will not hold any oral hearings that require the parties and witnesses to be physically present unless absolutely necessary.
The Danish courts have reopened and anyone summoned to appear should do so. Government restrictions on large gatherings do not apply to the courts and it has been left up to each individual court to decide whether to require visitors to wear face coverings within the buildings.
The judiciary has said it was considering working outside of regular business hours and using some outside premises to address space shortages created by the need to hear more cases in larger courtrooms that allow for more social distancing.
The courts have been set up to allow physical distance between participants and installed physical shields in some cases where distancing is not possible.
Generally, the courts have instructed parties, witnesses magistrates and judges to attend court if they have been summoned or scheduled unless they are sick or have potential COVID-19 symptoms. The courts have advised anyone in at-risk groups required to attend court to reach out to assess whether their duties should be suspended.
Portuguese courts have returned to full operations while following public health rules. The Supreme Court has introduced a new testing program before sessions. Initially attendees will take rapid tests on a volunteer basis.
The Norwegian Supreme Court has resumed hearing cases in personwith certain restrictions, although some hearings are still being conducted remotely. Only attorneys or others with a need to attend court can enter the building, visitors cannot eat or drink within the building and must maintain physical distance from others within the court. Anyone who is quarantining, has cold symptoms or has been abroad within the previous 10 days cannot attend court.
Iceland said it would restrict proceedings at courts throughout the judiciary, limiting hearings in most courts to urgent matters like child protection and criminal matters involving individuals under arrest or hearings where the parties do not need to appear in person.
The Dutch courts have been handling work remotely as much as possible. The courts have limited cases being held physically in the courts if the parties need to attend, with the priority going to criminal and family court matters.
The courts said the new partial lockdown would not affect their operations, but said people should only attend matters in person when summoned. Anyone attending court must wear a mask in the public areas of the buildings and courtroom attendance is capped at 30 people, who must register in advance.
Litigation that can be handled remotely is being heard through Skype sessions.
The criminal justice system has detailed plans to try to cut delays and reduce the backlog created by pandemic. That includes expanding the capacity of courthouses by extending opening hours, renting additional space at other locations and adding staff. The judiciary has agreed with prosecutors to resolve simple criminal cases through orders to allow the courts to focus on the most serious cases.
The Austrian Supreme Court has resumed regular service at the courthouse with the addition of social distancing requirements.
The Czech Supreme Court has resumed normal hearing schedules but urged parties to continue to use electronic and telephone as much as possible. Visitors are required to wear a face covering and staff must wear masks whenever meeting with visitors.
The court has also limited the hours it is open to the public after the government tightened restrictions, but said the move would not affect the timing of public sessions.
The Supreme Court has restricted all communications to email and told parties to use the e-filing system to view materials. Visitors must wear masks indoors.
The Slovenian judiciary said deadlines would continue to run and the courts would continue to hold hearings despite increased restrictions in the country. Parties have been asked to file all documents electronically or by mail and only appear in court when invited to do so.
The Hungarian courts have adjourned most proceedings except for urgent matters or hearings that can be conducted remotely. The judiciary urged parties to opt for electronic submissions, but said they could submit paper filings by mail or in boxes at the entrances of the courthouses. For any urgent matters that must be held in person, everyone must be at least two meters apart.
The Greek courts have begun resuming activities and the country's supreme court is in the process of sorting out hearings that were cancelled during the shutdown. The court continues to recommend all staff and parties were masks and maintain physical distancing.
Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council announced a range of measures to limit the risks from public access to the buildings, including having separate entrances for staff and litigants, one-way traffic in the building when possible, limiting the number of cases whose participants can wait inside at any time and scheduling fewer cases with longer breaks between them, among other measures.
The council has decided to postpone scheduled hearings, allowing only urgent matters to go forward.
The Slovakian Supreme Court has ordered staff to work from home, saying employees could only enter the building in an urgent situation if asked by a particular judge or lawmakers.
Slovakia's constitutional court has also limited public access until further notice. Its office in Bratislava is only open from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Filings in person can also be made from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the mailroom of the Košice location.
Latvia's Supreme Court is not allowing any visitors and is not currently accepting documents in person. Anyone required to attend a hearing must provide their contact information and wear a face covering.
The Estonian Supreme Court said that its communications may be delayed due to both the virus and its relocation. The court encouraged remote working and said anyone with symptoms or who has been exposed to the virus would not be allowed to enter the building. There is no broader public access to the court during the public health emergency.
The country's council in charge of courts administration likewise encouraged courts to handle matters in writing wherever possible. Matters that require an oral hearing will either be postponed or heard remotely. Only exceptional matters will be heard in person in the biggest available courtroom to allow participants to keep their distance. The council said the courtrooms would be cleaned afterward.
Only those involved in legal proceedings or the administration of justice will be allowed into the courthouses.
The Spanish judiciary's suspension of procedural deadlines is set to lift on June 4, but the judiciary said that all services that were deemed essential during the shutdown would continue to be prioritized as the courts resume broader operations.
The judiciary has issued new guidance for the courts during the pandemic, urging courts to use teleworking technology as much as possible. It has also published guidance on sanitary measures that should be adopted as the courts resume activity.
Liechtenstein's courts have resumed regular operations but said social distancing measures would remain in place within the courthouses. Masks must be work in the public areas of the buildings.
Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court has suspended all public visits and hearings are closed to the public. Journalists who regularly cover the court will be alerted to the results.
Switzerland's Federal Tribunal detailed plans to gradually return to normal beginning May 11. The court has asked staff to continue to work remotely as much as possible and only come into the courthouse when necessary. Anyone attending hearings has been asked to comply with hygiene rules from the Swiss authorities.
Lithuania's courts will only hear urgent cases such as those involving arrests or child safety matters during the quarantine period, all other matters have been cancelled. For those matters that must be heard in person, parties must be as far apart as possible and the courtrooms will be continually ventilated and disinfected.
Malta's justice ministry said the civil court registries had reopened and it had progressively introduced more digital tools to allow judges to work remotely. The ministry is now looking at lifting the remaining restrictions on the courts.
The Cyprus Supreme Court is trying to resume hearing some appeals after initially cancelling all hearings through the end of April with the exception of urgent matters. The court has asked parties to fill out a form and will begin scheduling hearings but if the parties do not appear, the court will only proceed if everyone has signed off on paper. The court also said that if the appellants do not appear, it will not consider the appeal to have been abandoned.
Romania's courts have published guidance for anyone attending court, including urging parties to use electronic filing, warning attendees that they will have their temperature taking and won't be allowed to attend if they're running a fever. The High Court is also requiring attendees to wear masks and have allowed individuals to wear any other necessary protective equipment.
The Swedish government is in the proposing legislation designed to move the courts away from paper processing toward digital case management, allowing all written communications with the court to move to digital form. The changes would kick in at the beginning of 2021, under the proposal.
--Additional reporting by Richard Crump, Paige Long, Joanne Faulkner and Christopher Crosby.
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