During lockdown the courts have adapted to using virtual hearings. Our family, disputes and criminal teams all have first-hand experience of what you should expect if you need to attend a virtual hearing. For some cases this could become the ‘new normal’.
What to expect
A remote hearing will be conducted by either a telephone or video call. In most cases the court will oversee setting up a link or dial in options for the participants to join.
Some video hearings may require the participants to download applications needed on the day (e.g. Skype). It’s important to do this prior to the hearing so there are no technical difficulties and disruptions that could cause delays to the hearing.
Once everyone is set up on the video, or conference call, the judge will be invited to join, and the hearing will begin.
How to prepare
- Make sure to have a good computer/laptop set up with a strong internet connection
- Prepare relevant documents that you may need throughout the hearing
- Arrange a quiet and private space where you will have no disruptions
- Mute all mobile devices and applications
- Always mute your microphone unless you are acting as an advocate or giving evidence. In a video hearing your camera should also be turned off unless giving evidence
- You will only be permitted to drink water (no other food or drink is allowed)
As a witness you will follow a standard procedure of swearing an oath. When giving evidence it is crucial that you are not in contact with another person both face to face and/or electronically. You will also not be allowed to have any hard copy or electronic documents or notes in front of you when giving your statement.
This applies for the whole period from when you take the oath to the conclusion of your evidence. This includes the time during any breaks or additional days in the hearing.
James Constable comments on his experience to date:
‘I have had a mixed experience over the past couple of months in attending virtual hearings. It has felt strange putting on a shirt, tie, jacket and a pair of shorts (out of camera sight), especially during spells of hot, sunny weather.
There have been no problems logging onto the hearings, but there have been a few technology issues once in the hearing that have made things a little difficult at times. I have experienced legal advisors speaking to me with bad quality microphones so they sound like robots and a slow connection which led to a time lag, so I was told off for speaking over the Judge.
Remote hearings are in the early phase of being implemented in the courts and there is, undoubtedly, room for improvement. I can see a future for virtual hearings as they make the courts run more smoothly with the given allocated time slot and reduce travel time for all parties. They also reduce the space needed due to social distancing. I hope that, in time, the technical issues are addressed, and the process does become a part of our new normal.’