Further to our update dated 27 March 2020, new emergency changes to the Civil Procedure Rules will give parties more freedom to agree extensions to litigation time limits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The amendments, which come into force today, displace the general rule requiring parties to seek the court's permission for most extensions over 28 days. Instead, parties may agree to extend time limits by up to 56 days, unless the extension would put an existing hearing date at risk. Any extension of time beyond 56 days will still require an application to the court. In so far as possible, the court will take the impact of the pandemic into account when considering applications for extensions of time, adjournments or relief from court sanctions.
The rule changes are intended as a temporary measure and will expire on 30 October 2020. While helpful, the changes do not automatically extend procedural deadlines. If parties cannot reach agreement with their opponents over proposed time extensions – or if they require an extension beyond 56 days – a formal application will be required. Parties should keep a document trail of all difficulties impacting on their ability to meet procedural deadlines, in case they are required to justify their need for an extension to the court. In many cases, it may be more practical in the circumstances to try to agree, and get the court's approval for, a lengthy extension.