Home > News > Latest Legal Covid-19 Updates

General Updates

  1. With regard to government guidance on restrictions – The current guidance remains in force: only go outside for food, health reasons or unavoidable work. This is expected to continue for a “significant period”.
  2. COP 26 has been postponed due to coronavirus.

Courts and Inquiries

  1. A new PD51ZA entered force on 02 April 2020. This makes changes to the Extension of Time Limits and Clarification of PD51Y. It allows the parties to agree extensions of up to 56 days without formally notifying the Court (rather than the current 28), requires any extension of more than 56 days  to be approved by the court, and directs the court to take the effects of the pandemic into account. It also amends the audio and video hearing PD51Y by making clear that a person seeking permission o listen to or record a hearing may do so by request, and does not have to make a formal application.
  2. HMCTS continues to list its daily operational summary.

Planning Updates

Legislation

  1. The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 were made on 2nd April pursuant to s. 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and come into force on 4th
  2. Part 2 of the Regs makes provision for the meeting of a local authority to be held in more than one place by extending the meaning of “place” to including electronic, digital or virtual locations such as internet locations, web addresses or conference call telephone numbers. And a member is considered to be in remote attendance at the meeting if the conditions in reg. 5(3) are met. The conditions require a member in remote attendance to be able at any time to hear and be heard (and where practicable to see and be seen) by the other members in attendance at the meeting and the public (both those entitled to attend and be heard at the meeting and those in general attendance). Part 3 makes consequential amendments to the Local Government Act 1972 and other local acts.

Inquiries, hearings and local plan examinations

  1. Inquiries and hearings remain postponed as are hearings and preliminary meetings for NSIPs and local plan PINS published a press release on 1st April committing to looking for new ways to use technology to continue running planning inquiries and hearings online. 

LPA Planning Decisions

  1. Whilst LPA planning committees can again start taking decisions on planning applications, an area of concern remains where permission will lapse during the period of the coronavirus pandemic. The RTPI, BPF and HBF and others lobbying the Government to introduce legislation (as Scotland has done) extending the life of planning permissions that would otherwise lapse during the lockdown period. Consideration will also need to be given by LPAs to increasing the time limit for implementing new permissions. Interestingly, even before the pandemic started, housing starts in England were 17% down in the Q4 2019 compared to Q4 2018 suggesting that initiatives to boost housing supply were failing.
  2. The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 (2020 No. 392) have been made, and will come into force on 04 April. These are made pursuant to s. 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, and modify the meeting and public access requirements of local and various other authorities.
  3. Local authorities are continuing to keep the planning system on track as far as possible. The head of Planning and Development Management at the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, for example, states that it issued 93 decisions last week, all working from home.

Public Law, Health & Social Care Update

  1. HMCTS have a daily update page (HMCTS operational summary) which is available here. This includes links to operational updates from the Mental Health Tribunal, the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal, and information about the operations of the Royal Courts of Justice (both the High Court and the Court of Appeal).
  2. The Government Legal Department has confirmed that the service of all new legal proceedings should be by email. Details about the particular email addresses to use for different types of claims is available here.
  3. David Lock QC has co-authored an article published in The Independent on the topic of medical decision making during a pandemic.  To read the full article, please click here.
  4. Finally, for an interesting piece on the restrictions on movement imposed in the  current “lockdown” by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, see this piece published on the UK Constitutional Law Association website by Professor Jeff King.
  5. There has been some criticism of the use of video-link hearings in Court of Protection proceedings.

 Property Update

  1. While the moratorium on forfeiture of commercial leases for non payment of rent may offer solace for some tenants, anecdotal evidence suggests that cash strapped landlords are resorting to serving statutory demands on tenants who withhold rent without agreement. This gives a company tenant 21 days to pay up, or face a winding up petitions – with all the resulting hardships that involves. While the Companies Court took a week to arrange its remote hearings, it is back up and running now, so unless the suggested amendments to the insolvency legislation suggested by Business Secretary Alok Sharma addresses this, there may be a surge in winding up petitions for tenants unable to pay their rent.
  2. Notices for Enfranchisement Proceedings are subject to strict requirements of form. In the absence of any statutory measures, the Association of Leasehold Enfranchisement Practitioners have drafted a voluntary protocol to assist where those requirements are difficult to meet. It can be found here.
  3. However, the strict time limits in enfranchisement claims (which, as statutory deadlines cannot be extended by agreement) remain a problem. ALEP has written to the Lord Chancellor and the Minister for Housing seeking an urgent intervention.
  4. Away from news about the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been much excitement about the decision in Beaumont Business Centres Ltd v Florala Properties Ltd [2020] EWHC 550 (Ch). This case was a Rights to Light case, where the appropriateness of an injunction cutting back a development was considered in light of the Supreme Courts guidance in Coventry v Lawrence. While all cases are fact specific, it is noteworthy that the Judge considered an injunction was appropriate rather than damages in lieu. This appears to be the first time an injunction has been granted in a reported case for an infringement of a right to light since 2010.

Rating update

  1. The Valuation Office Agency has issued an update on its services during the Covid 19 crisis period. The update also confirms that they are cancelling outstanding penalties for non-compliance with requests for rent, lease or ownership details:
  2. For those that have not yet seen it, the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) issued updated guidance on 24 March 2020 on how the Tribunal intends to conduct business during the Covid 19 pandemic:
  3. On 2 April 2020, the Government issued new guidance on the expanded retail discount scheme responding to the coronavirus situation that was announced in the Budged on 11 March. The guidance sets out a non-exhaustive list of the individual types of premises which can benefit from 100% rates relief for the 20/21 financial year.  It explains how the relief is intended to be applied and confirms that Government has considered the matter of state aid with the European Commission and is satisfied that the discount is not a state aid and so those limits do not apply.  See the full guidance here:
  4. The Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill fell when Parliament was prorogued for the general election in December. It has now been re-introduced and was published in the House of Lords on 18 March 2020, confirming that Government is pressing ahead with the revaluation despite the current situation.  The Bill will, as before, make the next rating list compilation date 1 April 2021, and, as a consequence, the AVD will be 1 April 2019, meaning that the new list will be blind to the economic effects of COVID 19. 

Articles and Commentary

  1. Russell Harris QC offers his personal perspective as a barrister in isolation.

Upcoming web events

  1. Charles Banner QC, Richard Turney, Anjoli Foster and Matthew Henderson launched a webinar on Planning the COVID-19 crisis, addressing over 700 attendees.
  2. Landmark is offering an Introductory Rating course via Zoom:

“The rating team will explain the basic principles of rating in five bite-size sessions from 2nd to 8th April at 4pm. The course is aimed at junior practitioners (lawyers and surveyors) who wish to increase their understanding of rating. No prior knowledge is required. We also hope that property practitioners of all levels of experience might benefit from this introductory course. This is a free, no registration necessary event. Practitioners are welcome to undertake the whole course or dip in when they are able to do so. This has been shared with clients already.

Zoom joining details can be found each day on Landmark’s website.

 

Issue Authors: John Litton QC, Aaron Walder, Jenny Wigley, Andrew Byass, Nick Grant, Alex Shattock

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