Home > News > Important guidance on Planning Court hearings during the COVID-19 crisis

Mr Justice Holgate, the Planning Court Liaison Judge, has asked that the following guidance be circulated to those practising in the Planning Court:

“We have already had a few hearings using Skype for Business, some with e bundles. They seem to have gone reasonably well. Many practitioners are already aware of the key protocols and rules on these new procedures, but I would be very grateful if you could draw them to the attention of your colleagues, members and readers. The court is trying to continue dealing with as many cases as possible but we do need help and co-operation from everyone involved. I expect that we will find ways of improving our techniques, in so far as resources allow, and we will want to consider updating the arrangements. Some weeks ago a meeting of the Planning Court Users Group had already been arranged for 7 May at 4.30pm and I will now ask whether this can be set up as a skype meeting. PEBA, the Law Society and clerks are represented at these meetings but if anyone has a contribution or feedback then I would be very grateful to receive it. 

Many practitioners will have come across Practice Direction 51Y (with a small amendment in PD 51ZA).

I also attach the revised protocol for civil proceedings (26 March 2020) and the revised protocol for the Administrative Court (which applies also to the Planning Court) dealing with both urgent and non-urgent work. The protocol for the Admin Ct is particularly important for our work.

 Might I suggest some “top tips”:

  1. To help remote hearings go smoothly and not take up more time than normal, the judges need to be able to make best use of pre-reading time (typically on the Monday of the week in which the hearing takes place). For that we would welcome succinct skeletons cross-referenced to key passages in the bundle and accompanied by an agreed, focused list of essential reading (e.g. pages and paras). 
  2. Bundles need to be limited to material which really is essential for the legal argument on both sides. By way of example, we do not normally need to be given the whole of the NPPF, or a development plan, or (where relevant) proofs of evidence or closing submissions at an inquiry. The inclusion of peripheral material make navigability more difficult. The requirement in the Protocol for a core bundle is crucial. In many cases a really well-chosen, agreed core bundle (or what Robert Carnwath once called a micro bundle) may be all that is really needed.
  3. Bundles of authorities should be confined to essential material and need not duplicate decisions in the ICLR casebook.
  4. It is essential that a bundle has a good index, a single set of numerical, continuous pagination and hyperlinks. Sophisticated pagination does not work.
  5. If parties follow the protocols this will also help judges when they come to prepare reserved judgments.
  6. The need for the court to make best use of its resources in the interests of all users is now all the more critical. Parties and their advisers are expected to keep under the review the merits of their cases and grounds of challenge. Points which do not have worthwhile merit really should be abandoned as far in advance of the hearing as possible and the time estimate reduced if appropriate. If a Defendant considers that there should be a submission to judgment then the other parties and the court should be notified at the earliest opportunity. Co-Defendants and Interested Parties should then quickly indicate whether they consider that the decision should nonetheless be defended. A claimant who wishes to withdraw a claim should likewise do so well in advance of the hearing. If this good practice (which is already set out in the Administrative Court Guide) is followed, then it is more likely that the court will be able to redeploy judicial resources to other cases and avoid waiting times increasing unduly. If there is a dispute on costs which the parties cannot resolve, then generally that may be decided by the court on brief paper submissions applying well-established principles.”

Reference should be made to the following documents referred to by Holgate J:

  1. CPR PD 51Y as clarified by PD 51ZA
    1. http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/rules/part51/practice-direction-51y-video-or-audio-hearings-during-coronavirus-pandemic
    2. https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/rules/practice-direction-51za-extension-of-time-limits-and-clarification-of-practice-direction-51y-coronavirus
  2. The Protocol regarding remote hearings (latest version 26.3.20) at judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Remote-hearings.Protocol.Civil_.GenerallyApplicableVersion.f-amend-26_03_20-1-1.pdf
  3. Administrative Court Office Guidance – COVID-19 Measures which contains detailed guidance as to how to approach both urgent (“immediate”) and non-urgent applications which is also applicable to the Planning Court at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/878790/Ops_update_-_Admin_Court_Office_Guide.pdf

See also the compendium of guidance on the Courts and Judiciary Website at https://www.judiciary.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-and-guidance/


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