HomeInsightsHM Courts and Tribunals Service publishes Guidance on HMCTS telephone and video hearings during coronavirus outbreak

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The Guidance sets out how HMCTS will use telephone and video technology during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. HMCTS says it has taken urgent steps to increase the capacity of its existing systems, to introduce new capabilities, and to provide guidance to staff on organising telephone and video-enabled hearings.

The Guidance covers:

  • the decision to use telephone and video hearings: 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;
  • using existing technology and making new technology available: HMCTS is using existing technology in the courts, including the provision for audio hearings that already exists widely in the civil courts. It has also expanded capacity and worked to increase and improve the ways in which audio and video technology can support hearings to take place. It is using a number of solutions, including:
    • teleconferencing: using BTMeetMe, participants will be sent conference call phone numbers, and no specialist equipment is required;
    • Videoconferencing:
      • Skype for Business — participants in a hearing do not need Skype for Business to join these videoconferences, however they will need the free Skype meetings app. Each participant will receive instructions and a link to click to join the hearing, as a “guest”;
      • “cloud video platform” (CVP) — CVP uses Kinly videoconferencing software. These videoconferencing rooms can be accessed through any laptop or video device.
    • new legislation: the Coronavirus Act 2020 expands the availability of video and audio link in court proceedings. The measures allow a wider range of proceedings to be carried out by video and audio. The judiciary will determine how a hearing is conducted;
    • open justice: this will continue to be a fundamental principle. In considering the use of telephony and video technology, the judiciary will have regard to the principles of open justice, as they do now. As now, judges may determine that a hearing should be held in private if this is in the interests of justice. A range of measures will continue to support the principle of open justice, such as: access to open hearings if/where a public gallery is available or a third party may join the hearing remotely; with the permission of the judge, an audio recording of a hearing can be made available to be listened to in a court building; and access to hearings and information to accredited media via email;
    • media access to proceedings: for physical hearings, even when many of the participants join remotely, accredited media will continue to have access to dedicated press seats as reflected in current HMCTS media guidance although current arrangements will follow wider public health advice relating to social distancing. Where accredited journalists wish to report on proceedings remotely then they should put in a request to the relevant court in advance;
    • joining an audio or video hearing: where a hearing is to take place via teleconference using BT MeetMe, all parties will receive a notice of hearing containing joining instructions. This includes a request to provide the court with a preferred contact number by which they can join the hearing. A member of HMCTS staff will facilitate the joining of all parties to the hearing and will ensure it is recorded and stored appropriately;
    • oaths and affirmations: people taking an oath as part of a remote hearing will have to provide their own Holy Book or Scripture; and
    • communication between legal professionals and clients: HMCTS recognises that legally privileged conversations with clients are fundamental. HMCTS’s bespoke product for full video hearings, which is subject to testing at the moment, provides for this in the form of private consultations. HMCTS is working to scale up this solution as soon as possible. In the meantime, other arrangements will have to be made to facilitate these conversations, such as phone calls to clients.

To access the Guidance, click here.