Top Tips from Clarke Willmott

Top tips for remote court hearings

27th April 2020, 6:00 pm

Courts around England and Wales are embracing technology in compliance with social-distancing measures to continue in their administration of justice. We list our top tips for remote hearings.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, courts are conducting hearings and trials with video conferencing platforms creating virtual courtrooms.  These virtual court rooms are not ideal for complex disputes which are document-intensive or likely to involve significant cross-examination.  This article is our top tips to help you gain a competitive edge over your adversary; helping you make the most of these exceptional circumstances.

  1. Back to basics – first and foremost make sure your technology works. Have a practice run with your colleagues prior to the hearing date. Check the microphone and camera are working. You cannot afford to experience any teething problems during your virtual hearing. Dial in at least 15 minutes before the hearing starts to identify any technical issues.
  2. Background and forward facing – Blur your background if you can or have a professional background. You must avoid having a distracting background and limit any background noises. It is important to consider where your camera is placed. When making submissions or asking questions, you will want to be looking directly at the Judge to understand their body language and reactions, particularly their facial expressions.
  3. Signing In – when signing into the hearing you must clearly identify yourself e.g. ‘Name (Solicitor/Counsel/Witness)’.
  4. Be seen, not heard: Remember to mute the microphone when not speaking but always remember you are being watched so dress as if you were attending court in person.
  5. Inter party communication– Schedule team/client conferences before and after the hearing. Set up Whatsapp message groups so you can communicate with clients and counsel directly and privately during the hearing. Carefully consider who should be in the groups to expedient communication. Review the hearing noting what didn’t work and change as appropriate for the next time.
  6. Concise and focussed submissions –virtual hearings take longer to canvas the same ground, so it is particularly important to focus on your strongest points being concise.
  7. Corrections – You should take particular care to ensure that your evidence is complete covering all the facts that are required to establish your case as the scope to “fix gaps” during a virtual hearing are more limited.
  8. Cross examination– it will be more difficult to apply pressure on a witness due to them being remote. You should think of novel ways to put your opponent’s witness under pressure during cross examination.
  9. Co-operate – The overriding objective looms large and Judges will expect it to be applied in relation to all aspects of the virtual hearing.
  10. Plan B – in the worst-case scenario that your client or counsel lose their internet connection have a Plan B.  You must assume that your technology will fail, and you must plan appropriately for this eventuality.

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