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Coronavirus - Northern Irish Courts: Update on a return to court business - Northern Ireland

  • Ireland
  • Northern Ireland
  • Coronavirus
  • Litigation and dispute management


Court business – further steps in the right direction

In our previous update, published on 5 May 2020 2020, we explained that the Lord Chief Justice had, at that time, announced a “gradual incremental return to court business”.

Since then, there have been numerous updates emanating from the Lord Chief Justice’s office.

The latest highlights in relation to Civil Court business are as follows:

1. The Court of Appeal continues to review and list cases for hearing – the first in-Court hearing was held on 01 June 2020;

2. The Queen’s Bench Division – the Judge will undertake further administrative reviews of Queen’s Bench Division cases on a two-weekly basis to the end of this Court term (30 June 2020);

3. Hearings over the summer recess are being planned with effect from 20 July 2020 and further information will issue on this shortly; and

4. Practice Direction PD1/20 – remote hearings was issued on 29 May 2020.

In keeping with the theme of our previous note, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service is working hard to get through as much Court business as it can, despite the ongoing difficult circumstances.

The Courts are doing this by a mixture of some in-person hearings but also a large amount of administrative reviews of cases which require a high degree of collaboration between the legal representatives, and also by looking at holding hearings over the summer recess with effect from 20 July 2020.

In the County Court too, urgent and emergency injunctions are being dealt with, as are some other limited types of cases too.

Across a number of the different Court divisions, increased use is being made of technology and the recent Practice Direction issued in this regard provided a detailed framework for legal practitioners to work with when conducting remote hearings.

Other trends

On other fronts, it is interesting to note the increased use of alternative dispute resolution during this difficult time.  Alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, is, essentially, a shorthand for different methods of resolving hearings without having to go all the way to a full trial in Court.  This encompasses formal mediations, expert determinations, or just simply good old-fashioned negotiations between the parties and their representatives.

Given the fact we are still some way off from a full resumption of Court business, now is an extremely good time for parties to look hard at their positions in cases and to decide whether they want cases to drag out, or whether this is a good time to see if settlement can be achieved, on commercial terms suitable to both parties.

Finally, in relation to third party funding, as per our previous note on this topic, now more than ever is time to look at alternative ways of funding cases, and a combination of third party funding from a reputable funding provider coupled with after-the-event insurance (which covers own side disbursements and the risk of adverse costs) is a sensible way to unlock good claims that would otherwise not see the light of day due to funding constraints.

If you require any further information on the above, please contact:

Matthew Howse, Partner in our Dispute Resolution & Litigation Department -

Connor McAleese, Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution & Litigation Department -