High Court: fully remote trial 'fair as face to face'

Out-Law News | 17 Feb 2021 | 2:12 pm | 1 min. read

Commercial litigants can be reassured that the UK courts are continuing to dispense justice despite new and continuing restrictions due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, legal experts have said.

Lawyers from Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, recently represented a client in a five-week High Court trial which was forced to proceed on a fully remote basis following the imposition of England's second national lockdown at the end of 2020. The case was originally due to be heard on a 'hybrid' basis, with a mixture of remote and in-person attendance, and required considerable last minute changes to make sure it ran smoothly.

Mitchell Andrew

Andrew Mitchell

Senior Associate

Through remote hearings and trials the civil courts are doing their utmost to try and achieve business as usual to avoid lengthy delays in cases being heard

In his High Court judgment, Judge Klein noted that the trial "although fully remote, was as fair as a face to face trial would have been".

Julian Diaz-Rainey of Pinsent Masons said that the case demonstrated the court's determination to continue to operate as close to business-as-usual as possible despite the pandemic.

"A concern for litigants is whether a remote hearing or trial is as fair as one which is face to face," he said.

"This trial was intended to run as a hybrid trial – part attendance, part virtual or remote – but, following the imposition of the second national lockdown in November, the judge ordered that it would be entirely remote. Although this initially produced some logistical issues, these were not insurmountable and litigants should be reassured that, in his judgment, the judge commented that the trial was as fair as a face to face trial would have been," he said.

The case was brought by a number of former officers and shareholders of events company World Events Group Ltd (WEG), who alleged that they had been induced to sell their shares in WEG to the company now known as UDG Healthcare (UK) Holdings Ltd (UDG) by actionable misrepresentations. Pinsent Masons acted for UDG in the case.

The dispute was a complex one involving 12,500 pages of documents; lengthy written opening and closing submissions from counsel; and a considerable number of witnesses. The events at the centre of the dispute took place over 10 years ago. Ultimately, the judge found that the claimants "did not have in mind and were not influenced by" the statements in dispute, and so did not rely on them when they entered into the share purchase agreement with UDG.

Andrew Mitchell of Pinsent Masons said: "Not only was this a great result for the client, but it also demonstrates that a trial – even a lengthy and complex trial, such as this one – can work remotely".

"Through remote hearings and trials the civil courts are doing their utmost to try and achieve business as usual to avoid lengthy delays in cases being heard," he said.