HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HCTS) has claimed good results from the first pilots of fully-video hearings, although a mixed picture has emerged from evaluation by the London School of Economics (LSE) highlights several early problems.
This follows a small-scale trial involving hearings for eight cases of the first tier tax tribunal taking place over the internet, an element of the HMCTS £1 billion court reform programme.
It said the trial was a success among appellants who welcomed the chance not to have to travel to a court room - with one person living abroad reporting that they avoided the need to fly to the UK – and that the processes were easy to understand for the users.
The LSE’s evaluation confirms that users were generally satisfied and that most of the cases were completed successfully.
But it also points to problems, including technology difficulties around Wi-Fi, audibility and access to documents on screen, and says that hearings often had to be paused and restarted to allow participants to deal with the issues.
Judges expressed some concerns that people behaved less formally than they would in a courtroom, and that the conventions around whose turn it is to speak need to be made more explicit.
The LSE makes a number of recommendations, including work on the sharing of documents and on improving the technology used. It also calls for a strategy to ensure people taking part are sufficiently resilient to do so effectively.
“Future research should collect data on video hearing outcomes, such as judicial decision-making, procedural justice and fairness,” it adds.
Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer took an upbeat view of the pilot. “Fully-video hearings have huge potential for those who find it difficult to travel to a courtroom and this trial is a welcome first step,” she said.
“Of course, we are still in the early stages of testing the technology, but the findings in this report will help us drive the innovation needed to make video hearings a success.”
HMCTS said it plans to work on ensuring technology is robust and reliable and ensuring the level of pre-hearing support is right at each stage. Further pilots are planned for later in the year.
Video technology is already used in criminal courts to allow some victims and witnesses to give evidence without having to come face to face with the accused.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0