HomeInsightsGovernment publishes Guidance on how courts and tribunals will use telephone and video technology during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

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The Guidance explains that the courts will make as much use of the current technologies as possible during the outbreak and that work is urgently underway to increase the capacity so that the courts and tribunals can continue to run smoothly.

Guidance from the Lord Chief Justice to the wider judiciary encourages the use of telephone and video to support hearings. Guidance has also been issued to HMCTS staff encouraging them to maximise use of telephone hearings and video-enabled hearings using the current technology.

The decision as to how a hearing is conducted is a matter for the judge, magistrates or panel, who will determine how best to uphold the interests of justice. In considering the suitability of video/audio, judges will consider issues such as the nature of the matters at stake during the hearing; any issues the use of video/audio technology may present for participants in the hearing; and any issues around public access to or participation in the hearing.

In terms of the civil courts, as well as making the best possible use of current audio hearing technology, the Government is also rapidly extending capability in the audio conferencing system (BT Meet Me), which is widely used in civil courts and includes the ability to record hearings in a way that meets the standards required of the justice system. The number of licences is being increased and more staff are being trained to use the system. Complete coverage is expected this week. Skype for Business has also been activated.

Current rules and practice in the civil jurisdiction continue. In tribunals, the Senior President of Tribunals is preparing Practice Directions to permit the maximum use of paper determinations and remote hearings where appropriate. Requirements relating to the recording of hearings remain unchanged.

The coronavirus bill published by the Department of Health and Social Care expands the availability of video and audio link in court proceedings, including allowing the public to participate in proceedings through audio and video.

In considering the use of telephony and video technology the judiciary will have regard to open justice, as they do now. Public galleries in courtrooms will remain open to public access, and dedicated press seats will continue to allow journalists to report on hearings. To access the Guidance, click here.