Judicial College issues guidance on remote hearings for Judges

3rd August 2020

The Judicial College Equal Treatment Bench Book has issued guidance for judges on the conduct of remote hearings. Employment Barrister Gareth GrahamGareth GrahamCall: 2006 outlines its key findings.

The guidance states that remote hearings are “by no means the new normal”, but that they will continue to have a place in the future. It acknowledges that the pandemic has left many cases languishing, and that the natural inclination is to get them heard as soon as possible. However, it warns that this must be tempered by natural justice considerations.

The guidance gives a detailed bullet-point list of factors judges might consider when deciding whether a hearing should proceed remotely. It includes the following points:

  • Do not assume access to technology.
  • A remote hearing taking place at home might occur alongside distractions.
  • It must be considered whether the content of evidence/questions would be appropriate for children to hear, or as to whether someone may have withheld full detail from other adults in the household.
  • Technology may give rise to specific difficulties for those with sensory impairments.
  • Virtual hearings take longer, because of technical difficulties, slower communication and the need for more breaks due to the increased concentration required as well as often unsuitable seating arrangements and posture.

The guidance concludes that the decision as to whether a hearing should proceed remotely is ultimately a balancing exercise for the judge. “The needs of the parties and their representatives will need to be considered alongside the importance of a speedy resolution of the issues, but it is vital at this time, when many are living under such difficult conditions, to really listen to views as to adjourning, or hearing a case in a particular way: consider case management hearings to investigate the difficulties/possibilities in cases which might otherwise appear straightforward.”

The Good Practice for Remote Hearings can be viewed here.