The courts service has quietly completed a landmark moment in the progression towards video hearings and a digital future.
The Gazette understands that the first hearing featuring two remote litigants was held on Friday, run from Manchester civil justice centre.
The hearing involved two litigants in person who were parties to an application to set aside a default judgment. A judge oversaw proceedings from a courtroom which was open to the public.
HMCTS is running a year-long pilot of video hearings for set aside applications and first direction appointments for financial remedy in divorce where both parties are represented. As well as Manchester, cases can also be run by video from the Birmingham civil justice centre.
Court bosses intend to run a limited number of cases with litigants who have been fully briefed and vetted in advance. Both parties must agree to take part, while judges must also approve each case as being suitable for video hearing.
An HMCTS spokesperson said: ‘We will continue to independently evaluate fully video hearings so that we carry on learning, testing and adapting the technology and processes.’
This is the second tranche of testing full-video hearings as part of the government’s £1bn court modernisation programme. Last year a test involving eight cases was carried out in the first-tier tax tribunal. Users reported that the hearings were convenient and easy to understand, but technical issues were commonplace and the majority of hearings suffered problems such as poor visibility of parties or lack of access to documents.
A practice direction made earlier this year to facilitate the latest pilot stated that all parties or their legal representatives would attend the hearing of the application, using the video-link, from suitable IT equipment and would see and hear, and would be seen and heard by, each other and the judge determining the application.
Members of the public may access a hearing by attending the court in person and would see and hear the judge and the parties or their legal representatives on a screen in the court room.
Each party involved will have completed a pre-video hearing suitability questionnaire at least 14 days before the hearing date.