They say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention‘, so it should be no surprise that online court hearings are suddenly the thing to do. Rather than using specialised technology, so far most reports are of hearings conducted using existing technology and adapting the process to suit what’s available.
As a technology expert who’s seen technology fashions come and go I’m enthusiastic and sceptical in equal parts about the potential benefits of online hearings, and think the legal profession needs look at how these initial forays work, taking the best practice on board and leaving the rest. So this page will be an updated set of links to reports from hearings as they come through.
A 7 day trial that was already expected to involve witnesses giving evidence over video link, converted successfully to a completely online hearing using Zoom, but it used a paper bundle rather than electronic. Key to the success of this trial was clearly a great deal of care in testing each participants set up before starting.
An appeal hearing conducted online with attendance by 3 judges and clients and legal teams from multiple jurisdictions. No witnesses but in an experience familiar to anyone using video-conferencing one of the judges experienced technical problems that meant joining by phone only!
Robert Williams of Cornerstone chambers reports on a 2 hour hearing done in 2 hours instead of requiring full days travel and overnight stay – that has to be a good use of technology.
Lord Burnett, the lord chief justice, hails courts’ tech solution to coronavirus crisis, The Times 9th April 2020
Interesting that although Lord Burnett is enthusiastic about online hearings he comments that experience to date is that they are much more tiring for everyone involved. From my own experience giving evidence is extremely tiring, even though it only actually lasts for about 5 hours a day. I would imagine that the extra focus needed to make sure you don’t talk over people and the sheer strangeness of the process is probably to blame. Question is whether it will get easier as people become more used to video-conferencing or whether that will always be the case. In which case maybe online hearings will need longer breaks during the day than the current practice.
A very thoughtful and concerned review from a Family Court judge of experiences of remote hearings. While there are technology improvements that would help with some of the issues faced (where lack of wifi meant doing the hearing by phone) many will crop up again and again, regardless of how good the tech is. Some issues may also be less acute post-pandemic – but a lot to think about here, not least just how hard it is to be a judge making these kind of decisions in such a different way.
Courts and tribunals data on audio and video technology use during coronavirus outbreak – HMCT 14th April 2020
Initial figures from HMCT on the use of technology for court hearings shows the remarkably rapid uptake caused by COVID-19 lockdown measures. The data will be updated regularly so it will be interesting to see how much of this sustained once lockdown is eased.
Camille Slow gives a thoughtful review of an all day online hearing, in a document heavy area, which in her view makes 3 screens highly desirable. Interestingly, her instructing solicitors commented that being able to see barrister’s faces was an improvement on their usual view of the backs of their heads, as was the replacement of note passing with email, although of course the technology to do that has been with us for some time!
Interesting to ehar that even in the rather dry world of forensic accountancy there is a need for empathy. Also interestign to hear that Single Joint Experts don’t usually get to see the trial bundle befoer a hearing. I don’t often act as an SJE, most IT disputes are worth too much money to qualify, but will bear that in mind next time I’m asked. Seems to me asking rather a lot of an expert to give evidence without knowing what documents they’re likely to be asked about.