Lessons from the pandemic – remote hearings
Remote hearings have been used extensively during the pandemic and although the world is opening up again it is likely that remote hearings will continue for a large number of hearings for the foreseeable future.
What is a remote hearing?
A remote hearing is one where you use technology so that you can attend the hearing without needing to leave your home. Currently, the main remote hearing options are a telephone hearing (using BT Meet Me) or a video hearing (usually via Cloud Video Platform, known as CVP). The notice of your hearing should confirm which method the court intends to use for your hearing.
Either way, the court should notify you of the details for the remote hearing, although this may not be until the day before the hearing. For a telephone hearing you will usually be called by the court staff to dial you into the hearing but you could be given a telephone number and pin. For a video hearing you should be provided with a link to access.
Be aware though that the court can list a hybrid hearing where some people are expected to attend in person (ie you must attend at the court building for your hearing) and some people will attend via video link.
Preparing for a remote hearing
Any court hearing can be nerve wracking but there are steps you can take to make sure your hearing proceeds as smoothly as possible.
If your hearing is via telephone, make sure you have provided the court with the correct telephone number and ensure the phone is fully charged and you have access to a phone charger, if necessary.
If your hearing is via CVP, check your internet connection is strong enough and check that you have Google Chrome downloaded as this is the most stable platform for the hearing. Also use the link sent to you by the court to check your access prior to the hearing (you will be sent instructions from the court on how to do a test run of the process).
Irrespective of whether your hearing is via telephone or video, make sure that you have all of the materials you will need downloaded and easily accessible. There should be a court bundle for the hearing of the documents that will be referred to and this should be sent to you by your solicitor (or by your opponent’s solicitor if you do not have legal representation). Most court bundles are being prepared as an electronic document using PDF software but if you do not have the ability to access this whilst also accessing the hearing (such as because you have one laptop / device) then you can request a printed copy of the bundle.
You may wish to consider attending the hearing from the office of your solicitor to minimise the potential technology issues you may face.
Joining the hearing
You should be given instructions from the court on whether they expect you to log in at the time of your hearing or if you will receive an email confirming that you should now join. The practice is different across different courts and if you are in any doubt, please contact the court to confirm the position.
If you have technology issues joining the hearing please contact your solicitor, your opponent’s solicitor and the court so that they are aware you are having difficulties.
During the hearing
If you are giving evidence during the hearing (this is likely to be because it is a Final Hearing of the application) then you will be asked to swear an oath on the truth of your statements and the oral evidence you are giving. Due to being held remotely, you will be asked to give a non-religious oath called an affirmation but if you wish to give a religious oath then please have your religious book to hand as you will need to hold this while giving the oath.
If you lose your connection to the hearing, please just try to log in again as quickly as possible. Contact the court if you are having difficulties and they should be able to assist you with accessing the court hearing. Alternatively, contact your solicitor if you have one or your opponent’s solicitor if they have one. Try not to panic as although this is undoubtedly stressful, it has become commonplace and the key is to be able to progress the hearing at the earliest opportunity. Often if it is a video hearing you will be given an option to call in via telephone so try this if necessary.
All of the normal court rules apply, even if the hearing is taking place remotely. This means that for a private hearing (most family hearings are held in private) you need to ensure that you are in a private location where you can hear what is being said but no one else is able to overhear you. It can be a criminal offence if you do not keep the hearing private so if you have any difficulties regarding the confidentiality of proceedings, you should raise this with the court prior to the hearing or with the Judge at the outset of the hearing.
The hearing will be recorded by the court but you are not permitted to take your own recording of the hearing. Again it could be a criminal offence if you were to do so.
It is likely that the Judge will go through all of these practicalities before starting the hearing.
Dos and Don’ts
|Check your background for what may be seen during the hearing.||Interrupt people who are speaking unless necessary to do so, such as because you cannot hear what is being said.|
|Sit in an appropriate area which will also be comfortable.||Have notes in front of you while giving evidence.|
|Wear the same clothes as you would wear to court if you were attending in person.||Check or read emails or do other things while attending the court hearing.|
|Have pen and paper to take notes.||Drink (other than water), eat or smoke during the hearing (including e-cigarettes).|
|Have the court papers accessible to you.||Leave unless told to do so.|
|Make sure you can be seen clearly.|
|Keep your video on unless told otherwise.|
|Mute yourself on joining but remember to unmute yourself when speaking.|
|Arrange a way for your solicitor to take instructions during the hearing.|