In the second article related to the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the superyacht world, Richard Hickey, CJC Senior Associate and Gabriella Richardson, Trainee Solicitor, look at the recent case of Huber v. X-Yachts .
It is generally acknowledged that the English High Court and legal services providers have responded well to the COVID-19 crisis, quickly adjusting to the new normal by increasing the use of technology to allow virtual hearings and avoid unnecessary delay. The recent case of Huber v. X-Yachts  offers a good example of the High Court’s pragmatic approach.
In this case the Claimants were unable to travel to the UK due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Court rejected the Defendant’s submission that the Claimants were not permitted by the relevant procedural rules to attend the virtual hearing. It allowed attendance so long as certain safeguards were met.
This pragmatic decision is a good example of the High Court’s willingness to adapt to the needs of overseas litigants during the COVID-19 pandemic and is to be welcomed accordingly.
- The dispute concerned the Claimants’ allegation that the Silver X, a yacht supplied to them by the Defendants, suffered from serious defects. The trial was fixed for November 2020. All parties agreed that, given the COVID-19 crisis, a video hearing was preferable to a physical hearing in London.
- Many of the parties were based overseas, including most of the litigants, experts, and witnesses. The Claimants themselves were based in Mallorca. They submitted that they should be entitled to watch the proceedings by video link.
- The Defendants argued that the relevant procedural rules did not permit the judge to allow the Claimants to watch the proceedings remotely. They submitted that:
- the rules prohibited broadcasting proceedings outside England and Wales;
- those rules would be unenforceable if persons attended from overseas, beyond the Court’s jurisdiction.
- The judge recognised that it was necessary to ensure that the prohibition against recording or broadcasting proceedings was respected. However, he was unimpressed by the Defendants’ argument that the Claimants were entitled to give their witness evidence by video link but should then be barred from watching the remainder of the hearing.
- The main factors that influenced the judge were as follows:
- there was nothing in the procedural rules prohibiting overseas virtual attendance;
- flexibility was required in the case of overseas parties, especially in the middle of a global pandemic;
- it would not be fair to bar the Claimants from observing their own trial.
- The judge therefore permitted the Claimants to attend by remote video link, so long as they signed an undertaking not to record or broadcast the proceedings.
- It is good to see the English High Court continuing to take advantage of technological improvements to make pragmatic and sensible adjustments to its procedures in light of the coronavirus pandemic. It is to be hoped that this trend continues.
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