Home > News > Latest Legal Covid-19 Updates

Courts and Inquiries

  1. HMCTS continues to list its daily operational summary, and Civil Court listing priorities.
  2. Lockdown restrictions are beginning to be eased across Europe, although currently no general changes have been announced for the UK.
  3. PINS provided an update on 16th April 2020 (PINS COVID-19 Update). The position is:
    1. It remains necessary to continue to avoid no-essential travel and maintain social distancing;
    2. Physical events remain postponed during the lockdown period; and
    3. Cases are being reviewed on a rolling basis.
  4. PINS are working hard on finding ways to minimise any delay by exploring alternative options of progressing casework safely and fairly:
    1. They are expecting to be holding their first digital pilot case either at the end of April or in early May;
    2. They have also started a trial of ‘virtual site visits’ with a small group of inspectors; and
    3. Four advisory visits to local planning authorities in connection with intended local plan submissions have also been undertaken remotely via video call.

Legislation

  1. The first review by the Secretary of State of the restrictions and requirements imposed by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations was due (pursuant to reg. 3(2)) to take place by the 16th April. There have been no changes to the Regulations yet.
  2. The Local Government (Coronavirus)(Structural Changes)(Consequential Amendments)(England) Regulations 2020 were made on 15th April and come into force on 8 May 2020. These Regulations amend the Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019 (S.1. 2019/957) and the Northamptonshire (Structural Changes) Order 2020 (S.1. 2020/156). The amendments are required due to the postponement of local elections in England, which were due to take place on 7th May 2020, and which have been postponed to 6th May 2021 by section 60 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Planning Updates

  1. There is ongoing concern regarding the implication of the lockdown for existing and future planning permissions. Planning Resource reported on 20 April that a body representing major owners, occupiers, developers, investors and advisers to real estate in the City of London has written to the government seeking a raft of changes to the planning system in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Changes sought include an automatic two-year extension of existing planning permissions for major development due to expire over the next 12 months; measures to allow for discussions to be reopened with local authorities to make changes to CIL and affordable housing contributions; and alterations to Class A use classes, “to improve high street flexibility after COVID-19”.
  2. There is also concern over local authorities being able to meet their housing delivery targets as there may also be a slow down in e.g. the grant of permissions and discharge of conditions. It was found in Research by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) that nearly two-thirds of chartered town planners were in favour  of greater delegated powers for planning officers to make decisions during the Covid-19 crisis;. Further, a third are calling for housing delivery test targets to be cut. However, others ra e contending that there should be no reduction the housing land requirement (see e.g. Quod’s Planning in the Context of Covid-19, Bulletin 2, 20 April 2020 – at section 6)
  3. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper (20 April 2020) on Stimulating Housing Supply:

“This briefing paper summarises the main 2015 and 2017 Government initiatives aimed at increasing housing supply in England, aside from planning measures. The 2019 Government will continue with, and build on many of these initiatives. March 2020 saw publication of Planning for the Future – this paper set out a series of actions the 2019 Government intends to take to meet its housing supply commitments.”

Environment

  1. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has published details of the government’s funding strategy for flood and coastal defences across England. As well as doubling investment to £5.2bn over the next six years, the government is updating the level of funding allocated to projects, taking into account wider environmental and social benefits of reducing flood risk and prioritising projects that will achieve the best outcomes.
  2. Carbon Briefing (for 20 April) refers to The Financial Times reporting that “big investors have urged companies to maintain their focus on reducing carbon emissions, even as businesses grapple with the economic fallout of coronavirus”. It continues: “Eight investment groups, including BNP Paribas Asset Management, DWS and Comgest Asset Management, told [the FT] that tackling global warming must continue to be a priority for public companies, despite unprecedented pressure on businesses globally after government measures to tackle the pandemic left whole sectors unable to operate. The investors said businesses would be given leeway when it came to climate change this year, but warned against backtracking on targets to reduce carbon emissions.”
  3. Research indicates that many Britons are “in the dark” over the climate change implications of heating and eating. While 77 per cent of those responding to a survey carried last week said transport produced climate changing emissions and 67 per cent pointed to air travel, less than half highlighted the role of agriculture and gas central heating despite these being major contributors to the UK’s greenhouse gases. Also, while 86 per cent said they aimed to recycle everything they could and 71 per cent said they were trying to cut down on single-use plastics, far fewer – less than three per cent – had taken more effective actions to cut emissions such as switching to a battery powered vehicle or a low carbon heating system, the research found.

Public Law, Health & Social Care Update

  1. Stephen Knafler QC has published an article setting out the framework under the Coronavirus Act 2020 for Adult social care and assessing needs.
  2. The Public Law Project have published a report on Judicial Review during Covid-19. One of the report’s findings is that significant concern has been expressed by practitioners about the use of remote hearings for cases that involve litigants in person, are particularly complex, or where significant case management has not been completed prior to the hearing.
  3. The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a statement setting out its regulatory approach during the Covid-19 crisis, saying it will focus on those areas likely to cause the greatest public harm. The ICO states it will continue to accept new information access complaints but “take a pragmatic approach to resolving these complaints”, bearing in mind that the reduction in organisations’ resources could impact their ability to respond to access requests or address FOI backlogs.
  4. The Department for Education has issued updated guidance on school admission appeals. The guidance announces regulatory changes which will come into effect at the end of this week. The new regulations will relax some of the current requirements set out in the School Admission Appeals Code 2012 and enable admission authorities to proceed with their admission appeals. The new regulations, which will be in force until 31 January 2021, will:
    1. disapply the requirement that appeals panels must be held in person and instead give flexibility for panel hearings to take place either in person, by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing,
    2. relax the rules with regard to what happens if one of the 3 panel members withdraws (temporarily or permanently) to make it permissible for the panel to continue with and conclude the appeal as a panel of 2,
    3. amend the deadlines relating to appeals for the time that the new regulations are in force.

Property Update

  1. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee launched an inquiry on 17 April 2020 into the impact of Covid-19 on homeless, rough sleeping and the private rented sector, with a call for evidence by 1 May 2020. The inquiry will examine how effective Government support has been for individuals in the private rented sector or who are homeless and look at long term strategies after the current measures expire.
  2. The media reported over the weekend that the Arcadia group, which entered into a CVA last June, has given notice to exercise break clauses of leases of at least 100 stores.
  3. Research from Begbies Traynor Group, an insolvency and advisory firm, published on 17 April 2020 showed the real estate and property sector has suffered the greatest increase, of 6%, in companies in financial distress in the last quarter. The research also shows that 509,000 business are in “significant distress”, the highest recorded in their research.
  4. The Tribunal Procedure (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020 have come into force. They give the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) and the First-tier Tribunal the power to direct private hearings and to record hearings. The FTT also has the ability to make a decision without a hearing in cases which are urgent, where it is not reasonably practicable for there to be a hearing (including a virtual one), or it is in the interests of justice to do so.
  5. PD51Z has been amended, effective immediately, as follows:

2.  Subject to paragraph 2A, all proceedings for possession brought under CPR Part 55 and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession by a warrant or writ of possession are stayed for a period of 90 days from the date this Direction comes into force.

2A.  Paragraph 2 does not apply to—

(a) a claim against trespassers to which rule 55.6 applies;

(b) an application for an interim possession order under Section III of Part 55, including the making of such an order, the hearing required by rule 55.25(4), and any application made under rule 55.28(1); or

(c) an application for case management directions which are agreed by all the parties.

3.  For the avoidance of doubt, claims for injunctive relief are not subject to the stay in paragraph 2, and the fact that a claim to which paragraph 2 applies will be stayed does not preclude the issue of such a claim.

Issue Authors: Stephen Morgan, Evie Barden, Nick Grant, Alex Shattock

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