“Can my court hearing still go ahead in lockdown?”

Kate Stovold reports on how the Courts have adapted to remote working.

In October 2019, I received notification of a three day Final Hearing in May 2020.  It was listed in a regional Court, out of London, before a District Judge.  In March 2020, Boris Johnson announced the nationwide lockdown.  Whilst I admit to some initial concern about whether the Hearing (and indeed the other Hearings in my diary) would proceed, and the impact for my client if it did not, my fears were allayed.

I am pleased to report that the Hearing took place, as listed.

How? Via Skype for Business.

The administration for the Hearing was different, in that there were specialised directions in place to ensure that all parties (clients, solicitors, barristers and the Judge) could join the call.  There was a requirement for a ‘practice run’ ahead of the first day.  I think this was as reassuring for me as it was for my client.

Other directions including in relation to the filing of evidence and the preparation of the Court Bundle were broadly the same as with ‘normal’ hearings, and the lawyers really pulled together to ensure that the Hearing could be effective, notwithstanding the lack of physical attendance.

Skype for Business worked well as a platform, and the Judge was clear about how he wanted the Hearing to proceed.  He took control, within the framework of the witness template that had been provided to him in advance  I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of talking over each other, and Court room etiquette was followed by all.

Many of my colleagues, including Laura Geraghty have had similar positive experiences with remote hearings.  Laura has had a number of court hearings heard by telephone and has been very impressed with how well they have been handled, even with the other party not represented.  It may well be that post-lockdown some hearings may continue to be heard remotely for expedience.

Some of the larger court buildings have already opened up for ‘face to ‘face’ hearings.  There is however likely to be a back log with certain matters requiring judicial assistance at the earliest opportunity.  Whilst acknowledging that there are still improvements to be made, and lessons for us all to learn as we adapt to remote hearings, it is clear that we can and should press on.

Business as usual!