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Law360 (March 16, 2020, 10:03 PM EDT) -- UPDATED August 10, 2020, 12:53 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 begun opening up for hearings again, with a handful of ECJ cases scheduled for hearings in the coming weeks and more General Court hearings joining the listings in June.
In some cases where hearings have been suspended, the ECJ has sent written questions to the parties instead. The court will notify parties in other cases when they are relisted for hearings. The court also cautioned that it may also send written questions instead of holding hearings in some cases after May 25 because of "logistical difficulties" from the pandemic.
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. The courts have also asked representatives to bring their own gowns.
The ECJ initially delayed a wave of hearings and is now prioritizing urgent, expedited and interim proceedings. The deadlines to file appeals continue to run as usual, but deadlines in ongoing, non-urgent proceedings have all been extended by a month.
The deadlines for General Court cases continue to run, but the court said that deadlines will be adjusted given the difficulties created by the crisis. The court has asked parties that may plan to seek extensions to do so "in good time."
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights said it will continue its essential activities "in principle" and focus on priority cases. The court has switched to teleworking and its building is not open to the public.
The court is now hearing three cases remotely in June after deciding to hold all oral arguments by video conference for the time being. The court will make recordings of the hearings available to the public on its website the day after the hearing takes place.
It suspended the six-month deadline to file applications for one month starting March 16. Other deadlines in pending cases will also be suspended for one month.
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 majority of courthouses have reopened after the judiciary initially radically reduced the number of courthouses open to the public handle urgent matters. Anyone attending court is encouraged to wear a face mask inside the building.
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. The 10 current locations, dubbed Nightingale Courts, will hear a range of civil, family, tribunal and criminal matters that don't require the defendant to be kept in custody.
All of the temporary court locations set so far will be operating by August, while the government continues to look for more possible sites. Two sites are in London, one at the Ministry of Justice's headquarters and another near Southwark Crown Court, while the rest are spread around England and Wales.
Manchester's crown court was closed for deep cleaning on Aug. 10 after three people tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Northern Circuit.
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 nearly 60 crown courts. New jury trials can start by following new arrangements designed to keep jurors, lawyers and the press safely separated.
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 60 magistrates courts and 48 crown courts. The courts are not, however, using the technology for jury trials.
Magistrates courts, which deal with extradition matters and initial proceedings in criminal cases, are hearing all custody cases brought by the Crown Prosecution Service, extradition arrest warrants, terrorism applications, civil applications dealing with public health law and urgent police matters like domestic violence protection orders and search warrants. Magistrates courts are also planning to begin handling traffic prosecution cases again that can be handled remotely.
Any cases that can be are being heard remotely throughout the judiciary. The courts are beginning to use Cloud Video Platform as well as Skype and other services.
As of April 1, the Court of Appeal is only conducting urgent civil and criminal work and is handling all civil matters remotely. The Royal Courts of Justice said urgent work is limited to applications that require a decision within a week that are "essential in the interests of justice." The appeals court will handle non-urgent applications as it becomes possible to do so. All notices of appeal will currently be accepted but can be rejected later.
For criminal matters, cases are considered urgent based on the type of appeal or any special issues like expected release dates or vulnerable defendants. The criminal division is also hearing cases remotely whenever possible. Urgent applications should only be filed by email during business hours.
The employment tribunals for England, Wales and Scotland will automatically change all live hearings scheduled from March 23 on to begin as a telephone hearing to discuss how to proceed. Parties should assume that for any hearings scheduled to run for more than one day, the later days will be cancelled.
The First Tier Tax Tribunal's administrative center based in Birmingham has reduced its operations, with a core group rotating through split shifts to maintain social distance and all staff who can work remotely are doing so. The staff is working with HMRC to send documents electronically, with the judiciary and the parties to arrange remote hearings and register new appeals.
All standard or complex cases have been stayed for 70 days until June 30 and deadlines in those proceedings have also been extended accordingly. Face to face hearings have been cancelled through the end of August.
Cases in the Property Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal have been stayed as the court looks for how to handle them remotely. Cases in the tribunal's General Regulatory Tribunal are being heard remotely or on paper.
The judiciary has also distributed pilot practice direction for its tribunals. The direction notes that regular decisions about the composition of judges or experts for a tribunal panel would remain in place, but if a salaried judge decides maintaining standard arrangements would lead to "unacceptable" delays, cases can be heard by a single judge or a smaller panel.
The Royal Courts of Justice's Fees Office has reopened three days a week during limited hours.
The courts have also halted all ongoing actions for housing possession, part of broader new government measures intended to protect renters from eviction amid the crisis.
» Northern Ireland
The courts in Northern Ireland have consolidated all matters in the Royal Courts of Justice, Laganside Courts, Lisborn, Dungannon and Londonderry.
The courts have only been hearing urgent matters using remote technology ranging from telephone and live link hearings to Sightlink, Zoom or BTMeetme.
The lord chief justice has launched a plan to slowly resume regular court operations. Initially the courts are conducting an administrative review of their current cases in order to increase how much of the court's non-contentious operations can resume without running afoul of public health restrictions. The courts expect that cases will proceed during that initial phase but at a slower rate, with some hearings going forward if they don't require a lot of witnesses or experts.
During that time, the courts said parties and lawyers should only attend court if specifically told to do so.
Jury trials are due to start up again at Laganside Courts in Belfast starting Aug. 19 and the judiciary is working on plans for other crown courts to resume operations in September.
Scotland's courts have reopened and the tribunals will begin resuming soon, but the head of the courts system has warned that with distancing requirements the courts' physical capacity may be just 30% of their previous levels. That is expected to lead to significantly longer timelines for cases, especially criminal trials.
The High Court will resume holding trials on July 20 in Edinburgh and on July 21 in Glasgow 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 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.
The Irish courts have laid out gradual plans for how to reopen some courts. The courts will continue to hold virtual hearings while the judiciary adjusts the layout of the courtrooms to allow for participants to maintain adequate distance from one another. The courts also plan to stagger listing times.
The Irish courts are planning to ramp up the number of cases they are hearing while making changes to protect public safety. That includes using two courtrooms for each jury trial. The judiciary is looking for additional space that can be used in some parts of the country given limited courtroom availability and the backlog of cases. The courts of appeal have largely switched to remote hearings, and that will continue as much as possible in to free up more space for actions that must be held in person.
The chief justice has warned that the measures may remain in place through much of 2021 and cautioned that remote hearings will likely continue to be crucial as many courtrooms and courthouses will not be able to handle the same volume of proceedings as before the pandemic. Even though masks are not mandatory indoors in Ireland, the courts have also urged all attendees to wear a mask in the buildings except when testifying, questioning a witness or speaking to the judge.
The High Court will limit its hearings to urgent matters including injunctions and habeas corpus. Extradition and bail hearings will be conducted using video links.
The president of the High Court has asked the parties in the 320 personal injury cases that have been postponed during the pandemic because they require witness testimony to press ahead with regular pre-hearing settlement talks in hopes of clearing much of the backlog. The president, Justice Mary Irvine, will begin listing remote hearings at the end of July to check on the progress.
All written judgments in the Irish courts will be delivered electronically to the parties and posted online as soon as possible.
The Irish courts have said defendants on bail do not need to attend criminal hearings at the district and circuit courts and will have their cases remanded to a future date. Any defendants in custody will appear by videolink. For the Central Court and Special Criminal Court, defendants on bail should speak with their attorneys about whether they need to attend. The courts have asked members of the public not to attend hearings unless they are participants and media outlets have been asked to send as few representatives as possible to cover hearings.
France has announced that only urgent court matters would go forward. The Ministry of Justice said trials could be postponed within reason and the limits on detaining individuals before trial.
France's highest court has suspended most non-essential proceedings but has a continuity plan to ensure that urgent criminal matters including extraditions are handled.
Italy's Supreme Court had suspended its activities under the broader government coronavirus crackdown, but is now gradually preparing to resume operations in mid-April with a focus on urgent matters involving prisoners. 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.
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. Only one or two sessions will take place each day in courtrooms big enough to allow participants to maintain enough distance from one another. The court has had every other row of chairs removed from the public gallery and only every third chair of those that remain can be occupied. The court is also collecting the contact details of anyone attending hearings in a voluntary process to allow for contact tracing.
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 begun gradually reopening. The initial focus was on criminal and civil cases like family law disputes, but the commercial courts have begun holding physical proceedings in civil cases as well.
The Maritime and Commercial Court has now reopened for in-person proceedings, focusing on bankruptcy and restructuring cases.
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 Norwegian Supreme Court has decided to hear all cases remotely until further notice.
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.
Litigation that can be handled remotely is being heard through Skype sessions. The courts are closed for public attendance and up to three journalists are allowed to attend hearings, though exceptions can be made if more can be safely accommodated.
The judiciary has asked the government for more clarity on its emergency coronavirus legislation, including seeking an additional exception for court hearings to the limits on restrictions on large groups of people gathering.
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 fully reopened to the public and resumed normal hearing schedules but urged parties to continue to use electronic and telephone as much as possible.
The Croatian courts have begun preparations for when the country eventually loosens restrictions.
The courts have been asked to assess which courtrooms are big enough to accommodate hearings with adequate distance between participants and how to schedule those courtrooms by day and judge in order to hold as many hearings as possible. The courts have also been asked to check whether multiple rooms within the courthouses can be connected using video-link to include more participants while still maintaining social distancing.
The Supreme Court has returned to normal operations with employees in the courthouse with the exception of high-risk individuals. Visitors must wear masks indoors.
The Slovenian judiciary has lifted special provisions put into place to address the pandemic and procedural deadlines in non-urgent cases are running again as of June 1. The courts have resumed regular operations but continue to ask visitors only to attend court if they have no signs of infection or to alert the court to possible infections if their attendance is required.
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 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 has reopened its building to the public while taking precautions to protect public health. Parties seeking access to case materials have been instructed to apply in advance and urged to communicate and distribute materials electronically. Hearings will resume as needed and employees' working hours will be set to follow safety measures.
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 is also looking at proposals on how to deal with workflow after the broader state of emergency is eased, which includes reducing the courts' workload and broadly increasing the use of technology for everything from filings to payments to court appearances.
The Spanish judiciary has published guidance on sanitary measures that should be adopted as the courts look at how to resume activity. The different courts have also been asked to begin preparing plans on how to restart operations.
The judiciary has also warned lawyers that it is up to judges to decide whether parties can appear by videoconference, warning Malaga's bar association over its announcement that it would suspend face-to-face proceedings.
Liechtenstein's courts resumed regular operations June 16 but said social distancing measures would remain in place within the courthouses.
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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