Court hearings are stressful occasions. New surroundings, pressure, and decisions being taken out of your hands. There is now an extra layer: the remote hearing.
The concept is simple – because of the pandemic there cannot be as many (or in some situations, any) people at court. So, we will have hearings (at least in part) over telephone or video.
Telephone hearings are mostly by way of BT Meet Me. In advance of the hearing, you will be contacted by the court and asked to provide your contact details. At the time of the hearing, you will be called, probably from an unknown number. You will hear an automated voice telling you that “if you want to join the conference, press *1” or similar. You will be asked to say your name after the beep.
When you are in the hearing, put your phone on mute unless you are speaking. It is astonishing how much can be picked up by a phone mic- from scratching your head to scribbling notes, it is all picked up. And amplified.
There are some rules you must follow, or risk being in contempt of court:
1. Do not record the hearing (the court does this);
2. Do not record part of the hearing;
3. Do not let anyone else listen to the hearing;
4. Make sure you cannot be overheard during the hearing;
Video hearings are similar to being in court. You can see everyone involved in the hearing on your screen, including the judge.
Most video hearings are through the court video platform (“CVP”). CVP hearings have been a long time in the making and are supposed to be the next best thing to being in court. The major advantage of course is being able to see who is speaking, as well as hearing the words spoken.
There is a guide for CVP hearings, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-join-a-cloud-video-platform-cvp-hearing/how-to-join-cloud-video-platform-cvp-for-a-video-hearing
A hybrid hearing is where some people are physically at court in a courtroom (for example the judge and the parties), and some people attend virtually, by video link (maybe an expert witness or the barristers). Those who are remotely attending will be visible on the video screens in the court room.
Practicalities: Communication During A Hearing
In normal, pre-pandemic hearings, I would sit next to or in front of my client and lean towards them to take instructions on points as they arose during the hearing. For obvious reasons that is no longer possible. Even in a hybrid hearing there will be too much of a distance between individuals for that to happen.
The usual rules about court procedure apply. One example is the prohibition on communicating with your barrister while giving evidence. This means that I cannot communicate with my client when they are giving evidence.
Email or some type of messenger is now the way to do it. Personally I choose email- it can be accessed on any device. I have known people to use WhatsApp, text messages, or any variant thereof. Just remember – keep it secure!
Sometimes, you will lose connection, or be bumped from the hearing. Do not worry!
If it is a telephone hearing, you will be dialled back in.
For a video hearing, log back on in the same way.
For representation (in person or remotely), please contact firstname.lastname@example.org