Out-Law Guide | 06 May 2020 | 1:40 pm | 5 min. read
This guide provides an overview of what those attending a remote, or 'virtual', hearing should expect.
A remote hearing is one conducted by either telephone or video conference. Telephone hearings are principally used for simpler procedural hearings, while video conferencing is used for more substantial or complex hearings, including some case management hearings and applications/motions, as well as trials and appeals. In Scotland remote hearings are yet to be used for hearings involving witnesses, but there is provision for this.
While the use of telephone conferencing has been common for certain types of hearing for some time, video hearings, particularly those involving witness evidence, are a newer development. This means that judges and court users are navigating some new challenges. However, experience of these hearings so far has broadly been positive.
In most cases, the court will set up the hearing and send the parties a link or dial-in details, together with any associated passwords, to join. For video hearings, the English courts are generally using Skype for Business, although they are rolling out a new platform called Cloud Video Platform (CVP). In Scotland, courts are generally using WebEx.
It is not necessary to have a licence for these products or any specific device in order to join a hearing using a link provided by the court. Where Skype for Business is used, for example, participants simply download a free Skype app on a laptop, tablet or other device and click on the link provided to join the hearing.
It is important to do this in good time before the hearing, so that technical problems do not delay the start. Once all parties and legal representatives have dialed or logged into the hearing, the judge will be invited to join and the hearing will begin in earnest.
For video hearings in particular, significant planning, testing and collaboration between parties is necessary. As part of this, we will generally arrange a test call with the court and all other participants in the days preceding the hearing. It is helpful if participants, particularly witnesses, do this test call from the setting they will be in for the hearing itself – further on this below.
It will also be necessary to agree various aspects of how the hearing will proceed with the other parties and the court, and sometimes set this out in a protocol for the hearing. This might cover issues such as who is to be visible and audible during the hearing which, generally, will only be the judge, advocates and any witnesses or experts while giving evidence, how advocates can make interjections when another person is speaking, and how the oath or affirmation is to be taken by witnesses.
We will also discuss with clients how they can communicate with the legal team, including advocates, during the hearing. There are a range of options for communications within the team, including conference calls, email, instant messaging and specialist electronic bundle software which includes private chat functionality. Of course, where telephone is used for such communications, all involved must be careful to mute their connection to the hearing, so that sensitive discussions are not overheard by other parties or the judge.
Where parties and witnesses are located in different parts of the world, it will be necessary to agree an approach to the challenges posed by different time zones. This will need to accommodate, as far as possible, the need both for witnesses to give evidence at an appropriate time of day and for clients and key witnesses to hear evidence given by others.
The following preparations need to be made by anyone attending a remote hearing:
Witnesses must particularly observe the above points about positioning, dress, food/drink and silencing of devices. In addition:
If a witness will be giving evidence through a translator, additional arrangements will be needed.
Unless the court has ordered that the hearing will take place in private, remote hearings are like traditional hearings in that they are accessible to the public. The most common mechanism for making remote hearings public is that a member of the public or press may request details from the court to join the hearing.
The court will also make a recording of the hearing. As noted above, it is prohibited for anyone else to make a recording of a court hearing unless the court has expressly given permission for this.
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