It is now routine for the Courts to list virtual hearings, and it is likely that the efficiencies of such hearings will factor into the decision-making post Covid-19. This could mean that hearings that would ordinarily have taken place in person may become a thing of the past. Clearly at the current time, virtual hearings are essential to ensure that cases can progress, and people still have access to justice.
Here at Shoosmiths, we have undertaken several virtual hearings and we thought it would be helpful to share our 12 top tips for virtual court hearing;
- When arranging the hearing, take some time to carefully check the details for each party in terms of contact / sending invites, etc. Without the security of relying on someone attending in person, inputting errors can occur, and the party will then fail to attend the hearing.
- Be mindful that the hearing may take longer than usual due to potential issues with technology or the need to be slightly more descriptive during telephone hearings.
- Provide clear communication of the hearing arrangements to all parties – This should include provision of the electronic bundle, written details of what they should do if the technology on the day of the hearing fails and details of all parties due to attend.
- Prepare your clients if they are attending! It’s even more important for lay clients to be prepped for virtual hearings than in person. In addition to an unfamiliar process; they will also be dealing with other unfamiliar aspects such as the approach to be taken with respect to speaking, how they should address the Judge / Master and generally what is to be expected in terms of outcome on the day. This will assist your client in being more at ease and ensure a mutual understanding of expectations.
- Test your own set up! Ensure that your lap top is fully functional, and all screens being used are set up correctly. Also check your microphones / speakers to ensure that you are heard fully and can hear the other parties.
- Test the E-bundles. The Courts are clear that they want E-bundles to be prepared for virtual hearings. Guidance has been provided as to how these bundles are to be prepared but mistakes do happen. Carefully check the bundle for missing pages, content that shouldn’t be there and that it can all be fully viewed.
- Try to conduct the hearing in a room that is quiet and free from interference from say the TV / landline etc. This isn’t always possible if you have young children at home but try to achieve an environment that is as quiet as possible.
- Start early! Ensure that you are available for the hearing at least 15 minutes in advance.
- Once the hearing has started, agree that anyone who is not speaking will mute their microphone. This will help everyone to maintain focus and be able to speak without disturbance from your respective households.
- If the hearing is taking place by video, remain aware that you are being watched. Body language is as important virtually as it is in person. The same applies with your choice of attire. It is as important as if you were there in person to give the right impression of yourself and of the organisation / client that you represent.
- Keep things formal. Whilst it may be nice to comment on each other’s homes etc; it’s best to keep the approach overall formal to set the tone for the content of the hearing. This is especially important if lay clients are present.
- The hearing will probably be recorded, which may include any waiting period before the Judge/Master joins the hearing and any discussions that take place after. It is best to keep conversation brief and to keep in mind that there will be a record of whatever is said.