The court system that landlords rely on to evict tenants faces extreme challenges as one- by-one County Courts announce plans to hold possession hearings virtually until at least the Autumn, says The Law Society.
The Law Society has questioned the wisdom of using ‘virtual hearings’ for possessions cases as the court system gets ready to re-start evictions on 25th June.
In an article published on its in-house website, the professional body for solicitors in England and Wales says it is concerned that plans to hear cases online or via telephone will exclude the normal system of duty solicitors being made available to tenants, and face-to-face horse trading prior to hearings.
Three London courts – Brentwood, Edmonton and Barnet – have all revealed that they are gearing up their processes to handle virtual hearings after the 29th June, with more expected to follow in the coming days and weeks.
Pre-coronavirus, both tenants, landlords and legal representatives could haggle together before a hearing and often reach an agreement, but the use of virtual viewings means this will be much harder to achieve, and that tenants will have less opportunity to take up or be offered legal aid assistance.
The Law Society quotes one solicitor, Sue James of the Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre, who claims that because a duty solicitor is an essential component in achieve proper access to justice for those losing their home, taking away this service will lead to more evictions and that the whole system will become unworkable.
“Clients facing possession proceedings often have welfare benefit problems which means they are on very low incomes” she says.
“They may also lack computers to access the court remotely or to have data or credit on their phones. Remote hearings for duty possession cases are not workable.”