Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘virtual hearings

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (9): introduction of a common platform for remote hearings in criminal, civil and family cases

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Moves towards doing more court and tribunal business via remote links, rather than by personal appearances in courtrooms, had begun even before the Covid 19 pandemic struck. Indeed, the use of virtual or remote courts and tribunals was a key element in the Transformation of the Justice system that was in progress before the virus arrived.

The pandemic has, however, sharply accelerated the expansion in the use of remote hearings.

The Government has been using the Cloud Video Platform (CVP). It was initially used in the criminal justice system across 60 crown courts and 93 magistrates’ courts. The technology has been used in some 3,600 crown court hearings and more than 7,000 overnight remand cases heard by magistrates. It was not used for cases involving jury trial.

The announcement of the first stage in the use of this technology is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-tech-will-help-keep-the-criminal-justice-system-moving-during-covid-19-pandemic

On July 1, 2020, the Government announced that it had decided to expand the use of the CVP to over 120 civil and family courts.

The Press announcement states that: ‘CVP can be accessed by any device that has a camera and a microphone – such as a mobile phone or tablet. Anyone can join easily, and securely, through a web browser, and sessions can be locked to make sure only appropriate parties join. Training rooms can also be set up so that sessions may be rehearsed before they go live.’

Further details are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-video-tech-to-increase-remote-hearings-in-civil-and-family-courts

Although the rapid roll-out of this platform has been driven by the challenges arising from Covid 19, I assume that, once in place, this technology will become part of the fabric of the justice system.

Looking ahead, the full potential of such technology to enable potential court users to access the courts more easily will need to be explored and be accompanied by a substantial public education programme.

 

 

 

Remote/online courts – worldwide developments

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Over recent years, there have been significant moves towards the use of Information Techologies in the delivery of legal and dispute resolution services. The Covid 19 pandemic has provided a sharp impetus towards the adoption of new practices and procedures, given the difficulties of holding trials in traditional court-room settings arising from the need for social distancing.

Under the leadership of Prof Richard Susskind, a consortium of groups interested in the development of on-line courts has created a brilliant website, Remote Courts.org, which provides an extensive clearing-house of information about developments around the world.

One of the primary objectives of the website is to try to ensure that, as ideas emerge, wheels are not unnecessarily re-invented. There is now a great deal of international experience which can be drawn on, and this is expanding rapidly.

The site is available at https://remotecourts.org/

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 3, 2020 at 11:32 am

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (8): guidance on new working practices

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As readers of this blog will already be aware, I have been considering the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on the English Legal System. There will, I am sure, be many more blog entries to come.

For those not involved on a daily basis in the work of courts and tribunals, it can be hard to get an overview of what is happening.

An invaluable source of information is available on the Judiciary website which brings together the vast range of advice and guidance on how courts and tribunals should be working in the current environment. Some of this advice is general – applying across the board; other advice relates to specific jurisdictions.

Access to the guidance, which is updated when necessary, is available at https://www.judiciary.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-and-guidance/

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (6): the Criminal Justice crisis [stop press]

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The huge backlog of criminal trials, resulting from the Covid 19 pandemic, is clearly very worrying for those responsible for managing the Criminal Justice system/

Two specific ideas for dealing with this have been floated in recent days.

In evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee to be given on 23 June 2020, the Lord Chief Justice is likely to be promoting his favoured idea, that trial by a 12 person jury should be replaced by a trial judge sitting with two assessors.

The Human Rights Group JUSTICE has been conducting experiments using a virtual jury – in which 12 jury members join a virtual hearing online.

I declare an interest. I am a member of the Council of JUSTICE. Last Friday I watched an extract from the 4th virtual trial, which was being held on a pilot basis. I was extremely impressed and many of those who engaged in the process commented on the realism of the proceedings.

JUSTICE argues that this experiment should be expanded and that virtual jury trials should be used much more widely. These should be seen as preferable to the introduction of trials heard by judges sitting just with 2 assessors. Those who agree with this view are asked to convey their thoughts to the Justice Committee, inviting them to take their comments into account in their deliberations.

The Justice Select Committee website is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/254/coronavirus-covid19-the-impact-on-prison-probation-and-court-systems/

The JUSTICE work on the impact of Covid 19 can be found at https://justice.org.uk/our-work/justice-covid-19-response/

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

June 22, 2020 at 5:46 pm

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (2) Virtual hearings and on-line courts

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Almost exactly a year ago (May 2 2019) I noted in this blog the introduction of the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill. This was to be an important staging post in the process of reforming Courts and Tribunals, to enable more hearings and other proceedings to be on-line. The Bill would have provided for the creation of a new Procedure Committee to deal with how such hearings and other proceedings should take place. The Bill collapsed when the General Election held in the last autumn of 2019 was announced.

Nevertheless, far from derailing the Government’s reform plans, the Covid 19 pandemic has arguably done more to speed up the progress towards the development of new online courts than might have been imagined. Although the Online Procedure Bill has not, to date, been introduced, the Coronavirus Act 2020 has effectively stepped in. For as long as the Act is in force (the legislation is time-limited to 2 years), it provides for the transformation of ways in which courts and tribunals are to be run. It does this by disapplying or amending existing legislation regulating a large number of aspects of public policy.

Sections 53 to 57 and Schedules 23 – 27 of the Coronavirus Act deal with the use of video and audio technology in Courts and Tribunals. I do not propose to go through these provisions in detail. But it worth setting out the policy objectives of these provisions. I have adapted these from the Explanatory Notes to the Act:

1. [Although] the courts currently have various statutory and inherent powers which enable them to make use of technology. The Act amends existing legislation so as to enable the use of technology either in video/audio-enabled hearings in which one or more participants appear before the court using a live video or audio link, or by a wholly video/audio hearing where there is no physical courtroom and all participants take part in the hearing using telephone or video conferencing facilities.

2. Provisions are also made within the Act to enable the public to see and hear proceedings which are held fully by video link or fully by audio link. This enables criminal, family and civil courts and tribunals to make directions to live stream a hearing which is taking place in this manner.

3. There are existing restrictions on photography and sound recording in physical courts. (Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 provides prohibitions on photography in courts. The Contempt of Court Act 1981 prohibits the making of unauthorised sound recordings.) These offences were created to protect participants in court proceedings, but long before the concept of a virtual hearing was thought possible. Provisions in the Act therefore create similar offences to protect participants and prohibit recording or transmitting live-streamed proceedings, photography and sound recordings in the context of virtual hearings and live-links.

4. The Act provides for restrictions to be imposed on individuals who are potentially infectious and that the decision to impose such restrictions can be appealed to magistrates’ court. The Act therefore ensures that such hearings should be conducted fully by video link, unless the court directs otherwise, given the person appealing the decision would be subject to restrictions, and there is the risk of passing on the infection if they were to travel to court.

Although these specific provisions will, I hope, have a limited shelf life, they are having the effect that, like it or not, judges, legal practitioners and other court and tribunal users are being forced to use these new technologies.

There have been sporadic reports in the professional legal press and elsewhere that, actually, many really like the new ways of doing business and are surprised how well they work. Others, particularly where the technology does not work as it should, are less enthusiastic.

But the champions of reform among the judiciary and policymakers clearly see these currently emergency procedures as a really valuable practical testbed and the precursor to significantly even more substantial reform in the years ahead.

The Act can be found at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2020/7/contents/enacted

A useful report on these matters from Susan Acland-Hood, who is leading the Courts and Tribunals reform programme, was published on 30 April 2020 and is available at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2020/04/30/using-remote-hearings-to-maintain-justice-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

See international developments at the website: https://remotecourts.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transforming the English Legal System: Civil Justice

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The Consultation Paper Transforming our Justice System sets out proposals for reform of the civil justice system that build on work undertaken earlier in 2016 by the Civil Justice Council, JUSTICE and Lord Justice Briggs – all of which have been noted in this blog.
The principal features of what is now proposed are:

 

i. Introducing a new online process for resolving claims: In line with plans across all jurisdictions, we will move more cases away from physical court rooms. Building on Lord Justice Briggs’ proposals in his Civil Court Structures Review we will create a new process to resolve many disputes entirely online, using innovative technology and specialist case officers to progress routine cases through the system and reserving judicial time for the most complex cases. We will create a new, streamlined Rules Committee to design this new system and keep the processes simple. When hearings are required, they may be held over thetelephone or video conference, focusing court resources on the most complex and difficult cases. This will mean that cases should reach a quicker resolution.

ii. Encouraging parties to resolve disputes themselves where possible: We will
increase signposting to mediation and alternative dispute resolution services to
help people avoid court for minor disputes that would be better handled privately,
without needing the court to intervene.
iii. Extending the fixed recoverable costs regime: Fixed recoverable costs are legal
costs which can be recovered from the losing side by the successful party to a
claim, at a prescribed rate. (For civil claims, these are set out in the Civil
Procedure Rules). We will build on measures introduced in the last Parliament for
low value personal injury claims, to limit the level of legal costs recoverable.
These measures provide transparency and certainty for all parties and are
designed to ensure that the amount of legal work done is proportionate to the
value of the claim. We are keen to extend the fixed recoverable costs regime to
as many civil cases as possible. The senior judiciary will be developing proposals
on which we will then consult.
iv. Civil enforcement: We will give the [county court] powers to issue attachment of
earnings orders to the High Court to create a simpler, more consistent approach
to enforcement, and make sure more people can get the money they are owed.
We will also commence the fixed deductions scheme (fixed table) provisions in
the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 in the County Court and
introduce fixed tables in the High Court, providing transparency and certainty of
the rate of deductions from debtors’ earnings to pay back their creditors.
v. Replacing statutory declarations in county court proceedings with a witness
statement verified by a statement of truth: We will replace outdated and currently
inconsistent procedures, which are inconvenient for people to use and resource
intensive to administer, with a more modern digital approach but keeping strong
penalties where a statement of truth is found to be false.

See chapter 3 in https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals/supporting_documents/consultationpaper.pdf