Few aspects of daily life in the UK were left unaffected by the global coronavirus pandemic. In the first half of the year, the government’s instruction to stay at home meant that many of us faced a whole new routine.
Of course, the restrictions are easing and we’re now able to go out more – albeit socially distant. But the effect is still being felt across the entire economy.
For the legal sector, getting cases heard by courts of tribunals has – as you’d expect – been a challenge. HM Courts and Tribunals Service have a plan of action in place to continue as much as possible.
It’s almost inevitable, however, that some things may not happen as quickly as it normally would – affecting everything from criminal hearings to civil personal injury claims.
The lockdown restrictions came into full effect during the second quarter – which could cause an even bigger drop as less cars took to the road and fewer people entered their workplace.
It should be said, however, there has long been a downward trend for the number of personal injury claims being made. The coronavirus, however, may well make that worse in Q2.
How courts are operating and new rules for civil cases
It’s still possible for personal injury claims solicitors to issue cases – even though many courts are yet to reopen. Thanks to electronic filing and case management systems, solicitors are still able to start the legal process of making a claim. Not only that, but there are a few changes to Civil Procedure Rules that are keeping the wheels turning.
The changes include Practice Direction 51ZA, which means claimants and defendants can now agree a 56-day extension to the claim process. In normal times, 28 days would be the period.
Practice Direction 51Y, meanwhile, means that hearings can be held remotely for as long as is necessary. Of course, no-one knows for sure when that might be just yet.
Limitations and examinations
In many personal injury claims, the impact of the coronavirus restrictions could be taking some cases close to the expiry of their limitation. But measures have been taken to protect claimants against this, which includes an agreement between the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and a number of solicitor firms to freeze limitation dates in all personal injury cases.
Medical examinations are also a core part of the personal injury claims process. With a need to maintain social distancing, face-to-face examinations can’t take place at the moment.
Where it can be done, video assessments are being used. But it’s also important to remember that a lot of medical professionals have had more urgent priorities to deal with in recent months.
What if you have a claim and who to turn to?
For anyone injured in an accident that wasn’t their fault, the most important thing to remember is that you can still start the claims process. Solicitors are continuing to work, and firms are still taking on new clients.
In the short-term, it might well be that video or phone calls are the main way of doing things. But the process goes on and access to justice remains as open as ever.