The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted the way in which litigation and court hearings are conducted. Whilst people are discouraged to leave the house for any reason other than essential travel, essential work and buying necessities, it poses difficulties in relation to attendance at court hearings. The courts have therefore altered the way hearing can be heard.
With technology expanding there are options for the court to conduct hearings without individuals having to attend. The Coronavirus Act 2020 allows the court the wider use of video and audio links to conduct court hearings ensuring the safety of the public and its professionals. This will allow the majority of hearings to continue as scheduled and avoid mass disruption to cases and to the courts.
The use of video or audio links will be at the discretion of the judge. The judge will consider whether video or audio links are accessible to the parties, whether there are any issues surrounding public access and participation to the hearing, all whilst taking into consideration the needs of the individuals involved.
In the past, the courts have used both audio and video links to support hearings but given the current situation and demands, the courts have expanded their use of these methods. In a bid to avoid disruption the courts have significantly increased the amount of teleconferences they can run through BTMeetMe. If it is decided that a hearing will be heard via teleconferencing, participants will be sent a teleconference phone number to call on the date and time of the hearing. No specialist equipment will be required other than a telephone and speaker if desired. The courts are currently using Skype, a free app, to hold videoconferences. The app will need to be downloaded onto the participants computer or mobile telephone (if it is a smart phone) and each participant will be given instructions to join the videoconference. The courts have also increased their use of their Cloud Video Platform (CVP).This allows for all courtrooms to have access to such equipment to conduct hearing via the above methods.
Whilst the majority of civil courts and family courts are keeping the courts open facilitated by the use of audio and video links, some courts have closed or consolidated. The Property Tribunal is closed for the foreseeable future and all Employment Tribunals will be conducted by case management hearing only.