By Celia Kitzinger, 17th August 2020
There are various ways for you to find a hearing to observe, if you are interested in seeing law in action in the Court of Protection. Obviously, you can simply pick one of our “Featured Hearings” from the home page of our website: we update them every evening for the following day.
Or you can scroll through our tweets the evening of the day before you want to observe a hearing. There are usually many more there.
This is a brief guide to finding hearings for yourself, if you don’t want to rely on us to tell you what’s available. There are several reasons why you might want to find hearings yourself:
- We only reproduce a selection of what’s listed – somewhere between 3 and 10 usually. There are around 30 hearings every day, so if you can find them yourself, you will have more choice.
- The hearings we’ve selected may not be at a time of day you can observe (though we do try to include both morning and afternoon hearings).
- The hearings we’ve selected may be vacated or adjourned – in other words, when you ask to observe them, you are told they are not happening – so you may need to find another one quickly. (Hearings can be vacated right up until the last minute before the hearing, if the parties can come to agreement without the need to involve the judge.)
- We only post hearings the day before. If you want a longer lead-in time, you can sometimes find hearings listed up to a week in advance in CourtServe (see below) and organise your time so as to be available then. (The downside is that they may well be vacated before the date they are listed for.)
- You might want to observe a hearing on a specific issue (such as DOLS, or Finance Deputies, or where P should live). We might not have selected a hearing dealing with the issue you are interested in – so it can be useful to check the lists yourself for what’s available that day. (If you are interested in a specific issue, you are most likely to be successful if you check the Court of Protection Daily Cause List – see (2) below).
- We’re sometimes asked for hearings before a specific judge, or in a particular regional court. We don’t have the resources to do this for everyone, but if you know how to locate hearings yourself, you can find them!
There are three websites where you can find lists of hearings.
This lists hearings in the Family Division of the Royal Courts of Justice. The list is published every afternoon – usually around 4.30pm -5.00pm – for hearings on the following day.
If you bookmark this page and check it regularly you will find hearings in the Court of Protection listed – but not every day. Most of the hearings on this list are NOT hearings in the Court of Protection (and they are not open to the public). But the same judges do sometimes hear Court of Protection cases. These hearings are before the most senior judges in the Court of Protection and they are typically assigned the most “complex” or “serious” cases. You may recognise the names of some of the judges: Mr Justice Hayden, the Vice President of the Court of Protection, is one of them.
There’s no information on this list about the issues that will be dealt with in the hearing – you’ll only discover this once the hearing begins.
There’s also no time estimate provided on this list. I once requested to attend a hearing, having allotted a morning for it, only to learn once I received the link that it was scheduled to last for three days. Another time, the hearing was done and dusted in 16 minutes.
You can find Court of Protection hearings on this list by looking for the words “Also sitting as a Judge in the Court of Protection” next to a judge’s name, and the letters “COP” before the case number. For example:
Before MRS JUSTICE THEIS
Also sitting as a Judge of the Court of Protection
Wednesday, 12 August, 2020
At 09:30 AM
Applications in Court as in Chambers
FD20P00480 MS Teams Hearing
At 10:30 AM
Applications in Court as in Chambers
HEARING NOT OPEN TO THE MEDIA
ZC194/19 MS Teams Hearing
At 02:00 PM
FOR HEARING IN OPEN COURT
COP 13632000 Re: RD MS Teams Hearing
This judge, Mrs Justice Theis, has various hearings in the morning that are not Court of Protection hearings (and not open to the public) and then a Court of Protection hearing at 2pm “in open court” (i.e. the public can attend). The case number is 13632000, and the case name is “Re: RD” (these are usually the initials of the person at the centre of the case). It is a Microsoft Teams hearing (i.e. via a video-platform, rather than by phone as many still are). There is a single email address for all hearings listed on this page (email@example.com ). It’s provided towards the top of the page. They ask you to email before 9.30am on the day of the hearing – so do that if at all possible. In practice, you will sometimes be able to gain admission later than this. (On the other hand, sometimes you get no reply at all – they are very busy and occasionally simply fail to respond to emails.)
Despite its name – which makes it sound pretty comprehensive – this lists only a small selection of Court of Protection hearings every day: those held from the London-based Court of Protection on the 5th Floor of First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP. There is one email address (and phone number) for all hearings on this list and it’s provided near the top of the page, where it suggests contacting the Judicial Support Team on 0207 4218718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This list is the most user-friendly option for public observers, because it provides helpful information including the issues the hearing is going to address and a time estimate for the hearing. It’s worth bookmarking and checking it every day if you’re interested in observing hearings.
The list is published every afternoon – usually around 4.30-5pm – for hearings on the following day. There are usually 3 – 6 hearings listed on this website every day, sometimes more, and sometimes none at all.
Here is a sample entry:
In The Court of Protection, 5th Floor First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP
Wednesday 12 August 2020
Before Senior Judge Hilder
Start Time Case Details
10:30AM 13422792 Directions where KS should live and the care he should receive. Private hearing – remote hearing. T/E 1 Hour
11:30AM 13544953 EW. To consider a) application for authorisation of deprivation of liberty. Private hearing – remote hearing T/E 1 Hour
On this date, Senior Judge Hilder (another judge whose name you might recognise – she often gives talks about the Court of Protection at conferences) has two hearings. The one at 10.30 am (Case number 13422792) concerns someone with the initials “KS” and the hearing is about his residence and care. The one at 11.30 am (case number 13544953) concerns EW and an application for a Deprivation of Liberty. Both are ‘remote’ hearings (at time of writing, this usually means telephone hearings from this list) and both have a time estimate (T/E) of one hour. This list is the only one of the three that systematically provides both a list of issues to be heard by the court and a time estimate.
You will notice that they both say that they are “private” hearings. When hearings are listed as “in open court” or “open to the public” or “in public”, this usually means you are free to attend but you will need to gain access. When hearings are listed as “private” you can usually attend them (except for Dispute Resolution Hearings [DRH] – these you can not attend) but you need to ask the judge’s permission and give a reason why you want to attend (e.g. “as a social worker, to understand better how decisions about capacity and best interests are made by the court” or “as a law student, to observe the workings of the court”, or “as someone whose family is involved in a forthcoming COP hearing, to observe someone else’s experience in court to give me confidence going forward to mine”, or “as a member of the public wishing to observe Open Justice in the Court of Protection”). There is no reason to avoid requesting access to hearings simply because they are labelled “private” or “public not admitted”. In fact, I have discovered that often judges do not know how the case they are hearing has been listed, and I have sometimes been told that a case listed as “private” should in fact have been listed as “public” and once that a case listed as “public” should have been listed as “private”.
If you only want to observe one hearing – and especially if you have a preference as to the issues that the hearing will address – this is probably the best website for you to use.
Courtserve is a live court listings service by Courtels Communication Ltd under contract to Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Services. It lists all the hearings in all the courts across England and Wales. You will need to register to use it (with a user name and password) but it is free to use.
For your purposes, you need to locate the section called “Court of Protection lists” under the “County Courts” tab. It is rather oddly located in the list of geographical place names – between Colchester and Coventry. Under the heading “Court of Protection”, you’ll find a list of towns and cities where hearings are being held (and the dates in the column on the right). This is very useful if you particularly want to observe a hearing in your geographical area.
The Court of Protection has seven regional ‘hubs’ in addition to the London office. These are based in:
- Leeds (the North East-East Regional Hub)
- Newcastle (the North East North Regional Hub)
- Manchester (the North West Regional Hub)
- Reading (the South East Regional Hub)
- Bristol (the South West Regional Hub)
- Birmingham (the Midlands Regional Hub)
- Cardiff (the Wales Regional Hub).
The postal addresses, email addresses and phone numbers for the regional hubs are provided on this webpage.
Until recently, requests to observe a hearing had to be sent to each court separately, but now, requests must go to the regional ‘hub’, rather than to the individual court where the hearing is scheduled to take place. So, for example, a request to observe a hearing in Swansea should be sent to the Cardiff email address; a request to observe a hearing in Oxford goes to the Reading email address; a request to observe a hearing in York goes to the Leeds address. The system is still under development and there are some problems with the email addresses provided at present – some have only the address at which the judge is sitting and not the regional hub address; some have both addresses! You should also be aware that some regional courts have entered the regional hub address incorrectly (with typos) so that your email will bounce back as undeliverable. You can check the correct email address on the webpage here. Sometimes there’s no contact address provided – but it usually tells you which ‘hub’ the court is part of at the top of the page, from which you can deduce which address to write to.
The information provided by the different courts is very variable. Sometimes you’ll have nothing more than a case number and time. Sometimes there isn’t even a case number – it will just say “Court of Protection hearing” or “Re. AB” or “private hearing”. Note that the same principles apply for “private” hearings listed in CourtServe as on the Court of Protection Daily Cause List above: you need to ask permission of the judge and give a reason if you want to attend a “private” hearing. On 5 August I was given permission to observe a hearing that was listed like this:
2pm 11578958 NG: IN PRIVATE – TO BE HEARD REMOTELY – NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC – DIRECTIONS – T/E 2 HOURS
It is unusual to have any information about either the issues to be addressed in the hearing, or a time estimate for the hearing (although either or both are provided occasionally, as in the example above). There is sometimes (but not always) information about whether a hearing is “Remote” or “Attended”/”In person”. Quite often this is conveyed by naming the platform to be used (e.g. “Telephone” or “BT MeetMe”, or “Microsoft Teams”, “Skype”, “Zoom” or “CVP” – Cloud Video Platform).
You should also be aware that currently only about half of the Court of Protection hearings listed across England and Wales actually appear under the “Court of Protection” heading. The other half (or more) are scattered throughout the list under the names of individual towns or judges.
I did a comprehensive search through CourtServe on three days in the first week of August 2020 just to see how many hearings I could find.
- On 3 August I found 19 hearings only 11 of which were under the COP heading.
- On 4 August I found 21 hearings, of which 10 were under the COP heading.
- On 5 August I found 37 hearings of which 16 were under the COP heading.
So currently it’s averaging out at about half of all hearings appearing under the Court of Protection tab. If you are looking for COP hearings in a particular geographical locality (other than the South East), this does mean for now that you will need to click through the list on the names of individual towns and cities to find COP hearings that have not been entered under the COP tab. This is a massive improvement on a few months ago when there was virtually nothing under the Court of Protection tab – and I can see signs that it is improving week by week. Some regional hubs – in particular the South East Regional Hub – now put (virtually) all their hearings under the Court of Protection tab.
CourtServe was developed for use by court professionals and it probably works well for legal staff who simply want to know when their hearing has been listed and can type the case number into the search facility. For would-be public observers looking for Court of Protection hearings though, it’s a bit of a nightmare as soon as you venture outside of the Court of Protection tab.
There is no standard presentation format. You can usually recognise COP hearings by their case number: they almost all consist of 8 digits beginning with 1 and no letters of the alphabet as part of the case number – except occasionally a ‘T’ at the very end. (I’ve tried to find out what the ‘T’ means and nobody knows.) Sometimes it may appear that the number begins with letters because the initials of the person the case is about are given before the case number, rather than after it (which is more usual). Watch out also for the “AM” or “PM” from the time of the hearing, which sometimes appears ‘attached’ to the beginning of the case number. Sometimes they also say “Court of Protection” or “COP” by them.
Here are some examples taken from the lists 3-5 August 2020: none of these appeared under the COP tab and none included the information that the judges were sitting as judges in the Court of Protection.
a) 10.00AM COP 13533327 Directions 1 hour via CVP
b) 2.00PM 1360178T BB
c) 2.00PM Re: B – HEARING – NO MEDIA ATTENDANCE ALLOWED – ATTENDED
d) 3.00PM 13559791 GJD DRH 1 hour
e) 3.00PM BT meet me 13559543
You should be able to see that four of the five have 8-digit numbers beginning with 1 (in fact 135 and 136 are very common opening digits). Two of them also provide the initials of the person at the centre of the case (in (b) it’s “BB”; in (d) it’s GJD). There are lots of other initialisations in these entries which will become familiar as you work through the lists (and which I’ve already mentioned earlier). The only hearing I can tell in advance that I would not be allowed to attend is (d): it’s a Dispute Resolution Hearing. I would consider asking to observe any other others – including (c), although it is an “attended” hearing, meaning that I would need to be able to attend physically in a real courtroom! I’ve only very occasionally come across hearings without case numbers, and only attended one of them – at which point it became clear that the reason for no case number was that it was an ‘urgent’ hearing on Tuesday morning following a serious medical incident late on the Friday night before.
Finally, all three of these lists do “update” regularly during the course of the day (and overnight). A hearing that was listed at 9pm the evening before may have disappeared by 10am the next morning – and new ones may have been added. All three websites have a “last updated” time check at the top of the page. Keep an eye on it.
This information should enable you to find Court of Protection hearings to observe if those we list as Featured Hearings on our website, or those we tweet via @OpenJusticeCoP don’t meet your requirements (e.g. for time, geographical location, or issue). Good luck – and don’t forget that we’d be very interested in considering publishing a blog about your observations, if you wanted to write for us!
Celia Kitzinger is co-director (with Gill Loomes-Quinn) of the Open Justice Court of Protection Project
Image credit: By Free Clip Art – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73556192