Lawyers say they have secured the first court direction related to coronavirus in a civil legal case.
Thomas Jervis, of national firm Leigh Day, said the High Court had handed down the ‘Covid-19 direction’, displacing the normal rule for time extensions under civil procedure rules. The ruling was made as a direct result of the potential practice disruptions that could be caused by the pandemic and is believed to be the first such time a civil court has responded to the crisis.
The order relates to a high value subtle brain injury case, O’Driscoll v F.I.V.E Bianchi S.p.A, which arose out of an incident involving a Bianchi road bicycle where the claimant is alleged to have suffered serious injuries. The case, listed for a five-day quantum-only trial next year will hear 14 experts (seven instructed by either side).
Master Davison, sitting in the High Court, granted the claimant’s request for permission for the parties to agree extensions of time for up to 56 days by consent without further order from the court in light of the virus. This direction was specifically sought by the claimant’s representatives in the absence of any formal guidance by the CPR relating to coronavirus.
At present, the general position under CPR.3.8(4) is that parties can only agree up to 28 day extensions of time providing that any such extension does not put at risk any hearing date.
Lawyers have called on the government to consider amending the rules to allow for more time to meet court deadlines. Commercial barrister Alison Padfield QC tweeted that the profession needs emergency legislation to automatically suspend limitation periods for civil claims and extend procedural time limits.
Cross-border litigation specialist Gerard McDermott QC asked: ‘As we look at the likely disruption in the courts should we also be thinking about extending any limitation period expiring in the next few months by at least a specified period?’