Civil court users have criticised the use of remote hearings as ‘fragmented’ and inconsistent, calling for improvements as the pandemic abates.
Writing for Gazette Online, Michael Javaherian, vice chair of the Civil Court Users Association (CCUA), notes that modes of delivering remote hearings differ widely. They can involve parties being required to phone the court or supply an email so they can be sent a link to join a remote platform such as Teams or Skype. Other methods include requiring parties to arrange phone conferences or video hearings to which parties must facilitate access via a link.
‘This fragmentation has presented difficulties, since it is sometimes unclear which of the methods shall be used,’ says Javaherian. ‘The problem is compounded by the fact that a number of notices of hearing published and distributed by courts have been ambiguous as to platform, raising confusion. At other times, notices of hearing have neglected to mention whether or not the hearing is even taking place remotely.’
Javaherian says users are regularly inconvenienced by an inability to reach court staff or slow response times. Since some courts have chosen to block-list remote hearings, users cannot ascertain whether the court will be contacting them for the hearing at all.
The association commends several courts which have formulated a consistent approach. Javaherian cites county courts at Birkenhead and St Helens, which carry out all stage 3 disposal hearings by BT MeetMe, with the court phoning the parties, and have a web-based signing-in sheet to collect parties’ details in advance.
The association wants remote hearings to remain following the easing of restrictions, especially for short and/or interlocutory hearings. But it is calling on HM Courts & Tribunals Service to ensure notices of hearing clearly state whether a hearing is being held remotely or in person, and to provide clarity within the notice of hearing on which platform is to be used. The CCUA also wants the block-listing of remote hearings to cease;and for court staff to respond more quickly and helpfully to queries.