Court bosses say that users of the first tribunal hearings fully conducted by video have given the system a resounding endorsement.
Participants in eight cases in the first-tier tax tribunal found them convenient and easy to understand, according to research by the London School of Economics.
But technological issues were commonplace, with the majority of hearings suffering problems such as visibility of parties on screen or access to documents. In many cases, the hearing had to be paused and restarted, and in one case the hearing had to be abandoned.
This was the first test in England and Wales where all parties participated in a hearing remotely through a video link.
Hearings took place over the internet, with each participant logging in from a location of their choice using their own equipment and, for the purposes of the pilot, the judge located in the court room.
Independent analysis from LSE found that people found hearings clear, easy to navigate and user-friendly. One litigant joined the hearing from abroad while a new mother welcomed the chance to stream the case from home.
Lucy Frazer, justice minister, said: ‘Fully-video hearings have huge potential for those who find it difficult to travel to a courtroom and this trial is a welcome first step. Of course, we are still in the early stages of testing the technology, but the findings in this report will help us drive the innovation needed to make video hearings a success.’
Most cases that proceeded to a video hearing were completed successfully, with users reporting satisfaction with the process and judges praised for their handling of the hearings. An administration team was on hand to resolve technology problems prior to the hearing, although HMCTS admitted there are issues around how it will maintain this level of support.
While most hearings experienced delays and technology difficulties (such as Wi-Fi dropping out), HMCTS said most issues were resolved quickly and were not distracting to users. Video hearings did last longer on average than telephone hearings due to the technical difficulties and judges taking extra time to explain the proceedings to the parties.
Court bosses say they want to improve the technical product, ensure the system is robust and reliable, and increase the level of pre-hearing support before full video hearings are more widely available.
HMCTS will now work with the judiciary and run further pilots later in the year. The tests are part of a wider £1.2bn modernisation programme affecting the courts and tribunals service in England and Wales.