Covid-19 updated information

Dear Tribunal Users,

When this guidance was last updated, on 17th August, lockdown restrictions were continuing to be eased and the guidance then given was predicated upon there being no second wave of the coronavirus. Regrettably, it looks as if that second wave is now looming – we may indeed have entered upon it – but, for the moment at least, the guidance given in August remains largely in place.

In that guidance I said that thinking would be developed, with the assistance of Court of Session and Sheriff Court experience, as to how we could resume hearings safely and I am pleased to say that a great deal of progress has been made since then. We are now able to offer Webex hearings as an alternative to courtroom hearings, where that is thought appropriate, but we are also back to holding “real” hearings, including some complex proofs, within George House, where the courtroom has been reconfigured for social distancing and a sanitising regime has been put in place. The consequence of social distancing is, of course, that the number who can attend is severely limited, effectively to parties, counsel and solicitors.

Although procedural hearings and debates are more amenable to being dealt with on Webex, proofs can also be managed on that platform. It remains our preference, however, that lengthy or complex proofs be heard in George House. In cases where the Tribunal and parties are agreed that this should happen, protocols for the leading of evidence will be agreed with agents in advance. We have not yet found it necessary to fix proofs furth of Edinburgh but site inspections have been carried out in various parts of Scotland, with the relevant hearings taking place in Edinburgh or on Webex. Finding local venues within which an appropriate safety (social distancing and sanitising) regime can be operated is likely to be difficult.

Administratively, those of you who are in touch with the Tribunal office on a regular basis will know that Neil Tainsh, Clerk to the Tribunal, has been off work for some time, having major cardiac surgery. The good news is that Neil is making a good recovery and hopes to return to work, on a phased basis, and only from home in the first instance, in all likelihood before Christmas. As well as wishing Neil a full recovery, I would like to pay tribute to the way that Douglas Ballantyne and Eli Do Rego have borne a greatly increased burden of work in difficult circumstances, ensuring that the Tribunal continues to provide you, its users, with the service you are entitled to expect during Neil’s absence.

In summary, we have come a long way from lockdown at its hardest and recent news of the possible availability of a vaccine gives us all cause for optimism about greater freedom further down the line. For the moment, present arrangements will continue unless and until the threatened second wave renders them unworkable.

Thank you again for your forbearance and please stay safe.

Lord Minginish
11 November 2020