Courts and tribunals may grant remote access to in-person and hybrid hearings after temporary measures introduced at the height of the pandemic were today replaced by a permanent regime with ‘expanded powers’.

Judges could allow the public to remotely observe cases under the Coronavirus Act 2020, but only when they wholly record the hearings on video or audio. 

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 now permits remote access to fully in-person hearings where it is ‘in the interests of justice’, there is the ‘capacity and technological capability’ to do so and providing remote access would not ‘create an unreasonable administrative burden’.

Judges must take into account the need for open justice, the timing of a request for remote access and its impact on the business of the court, the extent to which resources are necessary to allow remote observation and any statutory limitation on those entitled to observe the hearing.

They are also required to consider the impact that allowing or refusing a request for remote access might have on the evidence to be put before the court and ‘the safety and right to privacy’ of any person involved in the proceedings, as well as on the public’s understanding of the law and the administration of justice.

Lord chief justice Lord Burnett and Sir Keith Lindblom, the senior president of tribunals, have issued practice guidance after the temporary provisions for remote hearings were ‘repealed and replaced by a new and permanent regime with expanded powers’.

They said that remote observation can promote the purposes of open justice, adding: ‘Access for reporters, legal commentators and academics is likely to do so. Judicial office holders may take as a starting point that remote access for other observers is desirable if they would be entitled in principle to have access to a courtroom in which the hearing was taking place and giving them remote access is both operationally feasible and compatible with the interests of justice.’

The judges also emphasise that requests should be ‘timely’, warning that judges ‘might properly guillotine the process, limit the numbers given access or decline to deal with an application if they would otherwise be disabled or impeded from administering justice in the case itself’.