Hardly a day passes without news of some improvement or major advance in communications, and lots of hype about virtual court hearings. So it has long been a bone of contention of mine as a higher-court advocate that, while the civil courts have for some time made available the facility to conduct some hearings by telephone, the criminal courts have lagged far behind.
Now I read that, at last, the Crown court has recognised the advantages in saving court time, costs and expense to the parties (viz. a recent Durham Crown Court Practice Direction: representation by telephone but restricted to bail and other chambers applications).
Appearance by videolink for those in custody has been available for years and the equipment is widely available at most, if not all, magistrates’ and Crown courts. I believe, therefore, that I may have achieved a legal first in persuading the extradition court at Westminster Road Magistrates’ Court to allow me to appear on a case management hearing by videolink in the absence of the defendant.
This was on the back of existing arrangements already in place to take expert evidence on videolink in extradition cases in that court, and in my case from a Greek professor of penology in Athens.
Principally motivated by a desire to avoid time-wasting return travel from the Wirral to London on two previous occasions, I finally achieved my objective third time round. I am grateful to the district judge and court staff for setting up the facility, which was a success. This was a publicly funded case, so the saving to the Legal Aid Agency should be noted by the Ministry of Justice, which should be listening to the proposals on offer from organisations such as the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association.
With the ‘sword of Damocles’ of yet further cuts hanging over the criminal sector, I would urge the MoJ to take on board my example. The equipment is there. The technology has been around for a long time. I hope the benefits of my exercise are recognised and now repeated in all courts, both criminal and civil.
David Kirwan, senior partner, Kirwans, Merseyside