By Sofia Ashraf, Personal Injury Barrister
Practice Direction (PD) 51ZA provides a temporary update to CPR 3.8 and came into force on 2 April 2020. Essentially, until 30 October 2020, parties are now permitted to consent to extensions of time of up to 56 days (instead of the usual 28 days) without having to notify the court provided that the extension does not jeopardise a hearing date. The new PD does not alter PD51Z (which permits a 90 day stay in respect of possession proceedings).
Though PD51ZA is designed to avoid clogging up the courts with unnecessary applications during the Coronavirus pandemic, it is somewhat limited in this respect. In addition to the caveat above (extension posing a risk to a hearing date), any proposed extension of beyond 56 days, even if agreed by consent by all parties, requires the court’s permission.
Whilst the court must have regard to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic when considering any such application, it seems to me somewhat onerous to require parties to make formal applications for extensions of beyond 56 days where there is unlikely to be a risk to a hearing. Not only have we seen the temporary closure of some civil courts during this pandemic, we have also seen courts vacating non-urgent matters (including civil trials) of their own volition and hearing contentious matters (including opposed applications) on paper.
Against this backdrop, it seems to me that it would have been sensible to permit parties to agree extensions of any length until 30 October 2020 to permit there to be a more effective and efficient use of court resource during this period.
The position remains under review and so we will see whether there is a relaxation in this regard.