In recent years the use of remote hearings has been crucial to the efficient and expeditious service of justice in the courts and tribunals of England and Wales but what is the future for remote hearings?

When used effectively remote hearings save time and money for all involved whilst ensuring accessibility for court users for whom their allocated court or tribunal is a significant distance. Conversely, there are also strong arguments that avoidable issues arise when the parties are not present in the court building.  In addition, the seriousness of the nature of hearings is lost when parties can appear in court from their living room. 

However, in practice any hearing held remotely is usually only administrative and video links can be used to protect vulnerable witnesses from having to attend court.  The Court’s powers remain unchanged. 

HMCTS announce a new bespoke system to improve remote hearings

In a recent blog post The HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) announced they were looking at the future of remote hearings.  A sharp intake of breath from court users and professionals followed as they wait with bated breath to see what new systems will be introduced. 

In her blog of the 25th January 2024 Claire Jukes, senior service manager at HMCTS, opened with a reminder that it was not the pandemic which prompted HMCTS to begin exploring the potential of increasing the use of remote hearings. 

According to Ms Jukes the pandemic simply increased the urgency and led to the introduction of Cloud Video Platform (CVP), a product not designed specifically with hearings in mind.  The functionality is extremely limited during the hearing.  Before the call the least said about the repetitive audio “waiting for the conference host to join…” message, the better (especially if you’re unfortunate enough to be on a busy list where you’re kept in the lobby for hours). 

Whilst there is no guarantee any bespoke system will be an improvement; it is clear efforts are being made to integrate remote hearings into the system and not to dismiss them entirely now the world is less reliant on technology to protect health. 

Will the Video Hearings Service provide a future for remote hearings?

The development of Video Hearings Service, according to Ms Jukes, is in partnership with those who work in the system.  It also addresses some of the concerns raised above. 

The new system promises a reduction in delays, smoother hearings, and the ability to meet in private meeting rooms.  All parties will join the hearing at the same time which will increase the appearance of fairness.  Admittedly, there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of additional functionality, but time will tell. 

The Video Hearings Service is currently being tested before its national roll out from Autumn 2024.  Court users will receive their links for hearings through an account and it appears each hearing will have a unique link that will be sent to participants via email.  It appears the sharing of links will not be possible; HMCTS believe this will increase security. 

The new Video Hearings Service seems to be a positive move, but several key questions remain unanswered. 

How will an advocate be granted permission to attend a hearing?

What happens when there are last minute changes to representation?

What, if any, sanctions will be introduced on parties if technology fails?

When CVP was introduced in the heat of the pandemic users were simply grateful that they could continue to work so the flaws in the system were not scrutinised as severely as they would have been otherwise.  Given the passage of time, those using the Video Hearings Service may not be as understanding if the new system does not meet expectations.

We live in hope that the system will meet and exceed expectations ensuring justice can be delivered in line with the overriding objective at both in person and remote hearings.

This update was written by Hayley Blundell, a pupil at Westgate Chambers. 

We will be following the future of remote hearings closely as it unravels and of course report on any significant developments here.  In the meantime, if you need any assistance with a family, criminal or civil case, please contact us today.

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