I was interested to read Catherine Baksi’s feature ‘Home-made justice’ (6 April) about the use of Skype in a three-day hearing of a Court of Protection case; in particular, the detailed reporting of the impact of the use of a remote platform from the perspective of all involved. Most telling was the lay witness daughter’s account of the experience. Less enamoured than the court of how well it worked, the lay witness’s account brought into sharper focus the human element of an online court.
I quote but a small part of what Professor Celia Kitzinger, who voluntarily supported the lay witness, was reported as saying: ‘The process felt very distancing – the gulf across oceans of technolog y…’ The feature highlighted that, as law yers, we ought not to get too carried away that the technolog y worked to ensure access to justice continues.
The world has changed in the last few weeks, with new ways of thinking about how we work. Professor Susskind’s prophecy of online courts and observations such as ‘court is a service not a place’ (17 December 2019), and the rationale of utilising technolog y to cut costs and increase access to justice, are laudable. This certainly should not now be put on the back burner, or easily dismissed in conservative thinking about the way we have operated the court system.
At the same time, the first successful use of Skype in a hearing where it would have been unimaginable to have conducted the case in this way, shines a light on the fact that the law is about human interaction. It is not only a process to be undergone.
Experienced and sensitive law yers know that some aspects of our work evolve from the uncommunicated parts of life. Witness demeanour matters; whether that of our clients or others.
Now is the time to reflect carefully on which elements we can take for granted when dispensing justice, including the formality of being in a place called court, and getting the court to be the kind of efficient model envisaged by Susskind.
Debra Wilson Partner, Anthony Gold Solicitors, London SW16