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Courts Service report positive on remote hearings

13/12/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Justice scales on laptop screen

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has published a generally positive evaluation of the effect of remote hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said the evaluation covers the experience of public users, the judiciary, legal representatives, its own staff and support professionals and their attitudes towards remote hearings.

It highlighted key findings including that public users attending remotely were slightly more likely to be satisfied with the experience than in-person users (63% compared with 56%), and that legal representatives were positive, with 93% saying remote hearings were acceptable during the pandemic and 77% saying they would also be acceptable long term.

Judges were marginally positive, with 51 saying the remote experience was comparable to in-person, while 69% of legal representatives and 62% of HMCTS staff had the same view.

The evaluation shows that the experience during hearings was generally good but with exceptions. Only a handful of public users reported having difficulties accessing the relevant platform, and just one in five had issues with the technology – usually inconsistent audio quality, people being disconnected and interpreters or signers not being visible to their client.

Need for support

Around half of judicial respondents and a quarter of legal representatives needed technical support during some hearings, and a third of legal representatives were dissatisfied, saying there was a lack of communication about delays and cancellations of remote hearings.

The evaluation indicates that remote hearings work for most user groups, but acknowledges that more can be done to improve the experience for the public. It also recommends more support for vulnerable users and increasing awareness of the support available to public users in remote hearings.

HMCTS said it will use the evaluation findings to plan developments in its services, and that some have already been addressed by the plan for the Video Hearings service to replace the Cloud Video Platform (CVP) during 2022. The latter was rolled out quickly in response to the pandemic and has been widely used.

It said Video Hearings has been developed to better reflect the formality of a court hearing and provide additional features to CVP such as virtual consultation rooms and built-in guidance for court users.

“The decision to hold a remote hearing remains at the discretion of a judge who will decide if it is in the interests of justice,” HMCTS said. “We’ll continue to support the judiciary to conduct hearings using their choice of remote and in-person hearings.”

The evaluation involved over 8,300 responses to a survey and 180 quantitative interviews.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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