The Low Down on Lock Down Hearings
by Pia Bhopal
Since March, the Courts have managed to deal with hearings remotely by way of telephone, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
However, a remote hearing is not ideal when a contested hearing is required and witness need cross-examining. As good as technology can be, sometimes in order for a fair hearing to take place, a physical Court room is needed.
Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for everyone to be in the Court room has to be balanced by the need for social distancing and the reality is that Courts were not built with 2 metre spacing between each person. It is also important that everyone feels safe whilst in the Court building.
In order to try and come up for a solution to this problem, the Court has decided to set up hybrid hearings whereby some people will participate in person, and others will participate remotely.
I was lucky enough to be part of one of the first hybrid hearings taking place in Birmingham and my observations are set out below:-
It was very unusual being in the Court building. It is a building that is normally busy with people and a number of hearings taking place, but it was very quiet with only two cases taking place. As part of the Final Hearing I was involved with, some witnesses and advocates attended remotely whilst some parties attended in person. The Court building had been set up to allow for social distancing with the floors being clearly marked where you could and couldn’t walk. Each of the two cases that were ongoing were allocated a floor and each party their own room. No conferences took place in the foyer as would normally be the case. Security and cleaners were present at all time and the floors were very clean.
It is important to note that at security they requested that you emptied your bag and stepped away whilst they checked over your items. It might be a good opportunity to clear out the things at the bottom of your bag for anyone else who has to attend in future.
Whilst there were a few initial teething problems with the technology, with some witnesses not being able to hear and other dropping off, and it was interesting to observe a phone being passed along to whoever was speaking, overall this improved over time and it will hopefully continue to improve as time goes on.