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https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2024/01/25/looking-at-the-future-of-remote-hearings/

Looking at the future of remote hearings

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Court and tribunal reform, Digital services

We were exploring the potential to increase the use of remote hearings long before the pandemic, but the impacts of COVID-19 demonstrated why building flexibility and resilience into the justice system is so important.

To ensure justice continued, we quickly rolled out Cloud Video Platform (CVP) and it’s still being used by courts and tribunals in England, Wales and Scotland today. As an “off the shelf” service it’s met our needs so far, but longer term we need to cater for the specific requirements of a court or tribunal hearing. That’s where the Video Hearings Service comes in.

Our vision – that we’re already working towards - is to provide a service that’s flexible and improves access to justice for all court users.

The Video Hearings Service has been designed in partnership with judges, justice partners and other stakeholders to reflect the formality of a court hearing. It’s important that people attending remote hearings treat them with the same seriousness as a hearing in a court or tribunal building whilst benefitting from the improved convenience and reduced costs.

 

Remote hearings that are fit for the future

The Video Hearings Service is specifically designed to meet the needs of judges, court professionals and members of the public. This includes providing simultaneous interpretation which allows participants and their interpreters to hear each other in the hearing and in a virtual meeting room, allowing interpretation to proceed without disrupting the hearing.

We also have specialist technical support based in our service centres to ensure hearings go ahead without delay.

The service also brings a range of other benefits including:

  • displaying court rules prominently
  • virtual meeting rooms enabling secure, pre-hearing consultations and negotiations, without the need for people to switch to another platform
  • secure, private meeting rooms for judicial office holders to deliberate
  • a built-in self-check that people can use before the hearing to make sure their equipment works

 

Changing how you prepare for hearings

The Video Hearings Service is already being used in the civil and family jurisdiction in a small number of courts and by tribunals including the Property, Tax, Employment and Immigration Chambers, so you may have attended a hearing on the service already. We’re also testing the service in Chester Crown Court to explore how it’ll support the specific processes and requirements of criminal hearings.

We’re planning to roll out the service nationally from Autumn 2024. If you’ve not yet attended a hearing on the service, you’ll notice a few changes to the way your hearing is managed. For example:

  • the way you join a hearing will be different to other remote hearings platforms, including CVP - instructions will be sent from a ‘HMCTS.reform.net’ email address
  • most participants will need to join the hearing using an account
  • a link specific to each hearing is created, meaning that when there’s a short notice change, like a change in advocates we can share a link quickly

User accounts also give access to pre-court consultations enabling private discussions to take place. They ensure people can only access the hearings relevant to them balancing security with convenience.

Given the differences to CVP, participants are sent letters in advance, which provide important information and instructions to ensure the hearing runs smoothly. We encourage participants to read this letter carefully to avoid delays in joining and always ask people to join the hearing up to 30 minutes before it’s due to begin, to allow plenty of time to check equipment or contact us for any assistance.

 

Get involved

Developing a service of this magnitude is a huge undertaking. We’re in ongoing talks with stakeholders from the third sector, professional court user associations and of course, the judiciary, to make sure it meets the needs of participants attending a hearing remotely.

You can hear more about how we’re making remote hearings accessible for neurodiverse people in our recent podcast.

Information about attending a hearing on the Video Hearings Service is available on GOV.UK. If you’ve used the service and have feedback for us, or if you’d like to find out more about the service, please contact us at video-hearings@justice.gov.uk.

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4 comments

  1. Comment by Francessca posted on

    It would be useful to train the Video Hearing operatives of Court etiquette, as currently, the remote CVP operatives have no 'in court' experience and the hearing can sometimes come across as 'casual' and not as a court hearing should be. (the language or attitude). If you are planning to use current court staff, it would be really useful to give full and UNHURRIED training, face to face eg. the use of floor walkers (as when a new computer system is rolled out).

    • Replies to Francessca>

      Comment by ljones1 posted on

      Hi Francessca, thanks for your comment. HMCTS offers a wide range of learning and development opportunities for all staff to ensure that individuals can develop and build skills for new ways of working. We will work alongside operational colleagues to support training on the new Video Hearings service. The training methods will be varied and can be adapted for use where appropriate. This will also include online remote learning alongside face to face training. As part of our training plans staff will host a series of test hearings to gain confidence in its use before the live hearings commence on the new service.

  2. Comment by Colin Baxter-McMahon posted on

    The report above notes national rollout from Autumn 2024.
    Is this for criminal courts?
    If not, is there a timeline expectation for this?

    • Replies to Colin Baxter-McMahon>

      Comment by ljones posted on

      Hi Colin, thanks for your comment. We will focus on civil and family courts and tribunals when we begin rolling out the Video Hearings Service. The criminal jurisdiction to follow in 2025.