Posted by Stephen Welfare, Partner
Courts and Tribunals during the coronavirus outbreak
Whether you are a claimant, a defendant, a witness or even a juror, attending courts has changed with the systems adapting to lockdown.
“The Government advice is to practice social distancing and to only travel when absolutely necessary. How can I observe this guideline if I have to attend Court?”
The Courts and Tribunal Service has issued an official response to the coronavirus outbreak. It is focusing on priority cases, changing working practices and introducing new procedures.
- 160 open courts – these buildings are open to the public for essential face-to-face hearings.
- 116 staffed courts – staff and Judges will work from these buildings, but they will not be open to the public.
- 75 suspended courts – these courts will be temporarily closed.
For a list of which courts fall into which category go to www.gov.uk/guidance/courts-and-tribunals-tracker.
Telephone and Video Hearings
- As many as possible hearings will be conducted by telephone/video.
- This includes a Justice Video Service for criminal cases.
- Teleconferencing – using BTMeetMe.
- Videoconferencing – using Skype for Business/Zoom on HMCTS and judicial systems.
When a case gets listed for a hearing, including trials, the Court will issue each participant with instructions and a link to join the hearing. It is not essential to have Skype for Business software, but you will need the free Skype Meetings App. Immediately upon receiving the instructions click on the link and follow the browser’s instructions for installing the app, do so well ahead of the hearing.
The New Protocol
With hearings taking place by telephone, or preferably videoconferencing, the old rules and protocols of conduct have had to be revised. The judiciary of England and Wales has published a Protocol Regarding Remote Hearings. The main provisions are:
- The principal of judicial hearings being public is to be maintained with, as appropriate, a media representative being able to log in or through live streaming.
- Hearings will still be recorded by the court, but it remains forbidden for the parties to do so.
- Wherever, in the view of the Judge alone not that of the parties or their legal representatives, a remote hearing will not be possible, the case will be adjourned.
- All parties (lawyers and witnesses) and court staff to log in/call in to the dedicated facility in good time. When all parties have joined then the court clerk will invite the Judge to join.
What to wear?
The protocol does not mention court dress, so common sense should prevail. If the hearing is by videoconferencing then respectful formal attire should be worn as if in the court building. Whether advocates need wear wigs and gowns will no doubt be a matter for the Judge’s discretion.
Lawyers have been issued with instructions to prepare electronic bundles to replace old style paper bundles and new emergency practice directions have been issued to those practicing in litigation. If you are engaged in court proceedings then your legal advisors should be aware of the changes and be in a position to advise and direct you accordingly. Do not assume that your case will automatically be adjourned.
Please do not hesitate to contact us in order to discuss further:
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