Further to the impact of COVID-19 upon the civil litigation process, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Chancellor has signed the new Practice Direction 51ZA, which follows on from Practice Direction 51Z, which came into effect on 27 March 2020. The new Practice Direction is effective from 2 April 2020 and deals with the extension of time limits during the Coronavirus outbreak.

In essence, parties are now at liberty to agree an extension of up to 56 days without formally notifying the Court, rather than the current 28 days for which the Civil Procedure Rules prescribe. The exclusion to this is that no such extension can be agreed should it put any hearing date at risk. Any further extension required in excess of 56 days needs to be agreed by the Court.

Bearing in mind the unprecedented situation that litigators and parties now find themselves in, the Practice Direction makes it clear that the Court will take into account the current situation in dealing with applications for an extension of more than 56 days, as well as applications for adjournments and relief from sanctions, with the indication being that such applications will be allowed, rather than dismissed.

The Practice Direction clarifies that, further to the introduction of Practice Direction 51Y, which deals with video and audio hearings during the Coronavirus outbreak, parties only need to make such application to listen or view a recording of a hearing by request and are not required to make an formal application pursuant to CPR Part 23, saving Court time and the costs of additional fees.

The Practice Directions ceases to have effect on 30 October 2020 and is yet another example of a wave of updates being made to the Civil Procedure Rules to deal with the impact of Coronavirus on litigation. Inevitably, many parties in litigation are going to be facing delays, adjournments and possibly having to deal with applications for relief from sanctions. The most recent Practice Direction is a further indication of the approach that the Court will take to assist litigators and parties as they navigate their way through such unchartered waters.

Should anyone have any questions regarding the impact of the recent Civil Procedure Rules updates and/or the Coronavirus Act 2020 upon any ongoing litigation proceedings, the specialist members of the Dispute Resolution Team are at hand to assist.