PM Legal Partner Cassandra Zanelli outlines the new Practice Directions and Guidance put in place for cases in the First Tier Tribunal (and Upper Tribunal) as a result of the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak.
In light of the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the way in which we live and work has changed significantly and, with those changes, the justice system is adapting too.
The Senior President of Tribunals has issued two Practice Directions that will apply in First Tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal for the next six months
Specific guidance has also been issued for users of the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), which advises how the FTT plans to operate in the current challenging environment.
The Southern and London Tribunal offices are now closed and– at the time of writing – the Cambridge, Birmingham and Manchester offices are still open, but with reduced capacity.
Inspections of properties and land have been suspended with immediate effect, and there will be an increased use of paper determinations and remote hearings as face to face hearings will not take place for at least six months.
With the property dispute landscape changing day by day, we will see these changes impacting on all aspects of the industry. Many of us will have current cases before the Tribunal, with others intending to bring applications in the months to follow. The new measures will change how we handle the current workload, and any new cases too.
New emergency Practice Directions outlined
The first of these Practice Directions deals with panel composition in the First Tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal and the second deals with contingency arrangements for both.
In light of these changes, the Practice Direction recognises the need for an adjusted way of working and, to fit in line with current Government advice, the panel composition will alter.
This Practice Directions allow a salaried judge to decide that cases should be heard by a judge alone or a panel consisting of fewer or different members than would normally be permitted.
A salaried judge will make these decisions if the judge considers that a case could not proceed or would be subject to unacceptable delay.
The Practice Direction sets out that, where procedural rules allow decisions to be made without a hearing, that decisions now should be made in this way. This is provided that it accords with the overriding objective, the parties’ ECHR rights and rules about notice and consent.
To deal more efficiently with cases where a successful outcome for the applicant is highly likely, the Practice Direction allows Chamber Presidents to introduce measures to ‘triage’ applications. It remains to be seen whether these triage measures will be introduced for residential property matters. Watch this space…
With all inspections now suspended, the Tribunal may permit parties to produce photos and/or videos of the condition or relevant aspects of the property and undertake external ‘drive by’ inspections in appropriate cases.
What the new FTT guidance sets out
The First Tier Tribunal has set out that there will be no face to face hearings or mediations until further notice, and the ones that do go ahead will be done remotely. Some determinations will be made on consideration of documents alone.
They also state that there will be no inspections carried out by the Tribunal of premises or property for at least six months.
The guidance sets out that the Tribunal are exploring ways to continue working even if offices are closed but they acknowledge they will not be able to provide a full service and advise all communication will now be e-mail based.
The guidance outlines that all cases already listed for a face to face final hearing up until at least the end of May will be postponed. With consent of the parties, the Tribunal may decide matters on the papers alone, or, alternatively, will offer a hearing using remote technology.
If paper determination or remote hearing isn’t appropriate, then the case will be re-listed for a face to face hearing although the Tribunal cannot say when that will take place.
If directions have already been issued, then all parties should seek to comply with those directions. However, the guidance appreciates the impact of the coronavirus crisis on all involved which may lead to a delay in compliance.
The guidance indicates, in due course, the Tribunal will review the directions already given and will consider how to move the case onto final determination. It’s unlikely that they will start the process of reviewing decisions for at least six weeks.
If directions haven’t already been given, the Tribunal will either issue directions or convene a remote case management hearing.
The FTT acknowledges that directions are unlikely to be issued for at least six weeks.
If cases have already been heard and the hearing has concluded, or if matters were determined on consideration of the papers alone, the Tribunal’s decision will be issued by post or e-mail – however, there may be delays during this process.
Any new applications to the Tribunal should be lodged by using their new centralised e-mail system. The application fee must be paid by cheque or postal order and will be accepted if they reach the Tribunal within 28 days of it being made. If the case is urgent, the applications must be made via e-mail, be marked as urgent and outline the reasons for its importance. The new e-mail addresses for each region are: Eastern Region: firstname.lastname@example.org, London Region; London.email@example.com, Midland Region; firstname.lastname@example.org, Northern Region; email@example.com, Southern Region; firstname.lastname@example.org.
These new measures will be in place for a period of six months, and within that time can be reviewed or revoked at any time.
With these changes having a significant impact on the way property disputes are determined over the coming months, we will see a different way of working for all parties – but we will adapt and continue to provide the best service for our clients during this new, unprecedented environment we find ourselves in.
To discuss any of the above guidance with us, please contact Cassandra Zanelli on e-mail.
And of course, I hope in these difficult times that you, your friends, family are colleagues are staying safe and well
Cassandra Zanelli, Partner at PM Legal Services