IP Update – Covid-19

The spread of COVID-19 has affected all our lives; I have no doubt that most of you will be reading this update as you acclimatise to working from home. Now, later than many other sectors, the Scottish courts system has announced its own measures to adapt to the new world in which we find ourselves. Helpfully, many of the changes announced are measures which practitioners have been seeking for some time – indeed, it is to be hoped that some of the new measures will be maintained after the current crisis has passed. 

Across the Scottish court system, the emphasis has been on limiting the requirement for practitioners and members of the public to physically attend court. To that end, all hearings requiring witness evidence have been adjourned, presumably to be re-fixed once the current situation has passed. More positively, parties may now agree to have hearings proceed by written submissions, or by telephone or video-conferencing where available. This has the potential to significantly reduce the burden on practitioners of travelling to different courts or instructing local agents; in turn, this may reduce the expense for clients accordingly. There may still be cases where appearance is required, however – for example, where a party is unrepresented it may be difficult to secure agreement to written submissions or hearings by conference call. 

More generally, however, the changes are relatively minimal. Electronic lodging of documents is available “where competent;” meaning, presumably, where allowance has already been made for it in the relevant rules of court. Otherwise, documents and papers must still be lodged in hard copy, albeit by post rather than in person. It remains to be seen whether the crisis will force the courts to adapt to electronic lodging in, for example, ordinary actions. 

Court users and clients should be aware of these changes and, depending on the progress of the virus over the coming weeks, may anticipate further changes. For now though, it may be worth observing that, for the moment at least, circumstances have dragged the Scottish court system into the 21st century.