Trust the British Army to do things by the book. Like other branches of the justice system, military court centres at Bulford and Catterick have had to adjust to remote working. To make sure proceedings run without a hitch – while some military majesty is preserved – His Honour Judge Blackett, judge advocate general, has issued a Sentencing by Zoom Protocol.
Nothing is left to chance. Procedures set out under 28 bullet points include preparations – ‘each board member will receive an individual stationery package including notebook and pens as well as a Bible and affirmation/oath card for their use and theirs alone’. All parties must have with them a mobile phone, with the number provided in advance, in case on-screen communication is lost.
At the beginning of the hearing the administrator will ‘warn parties that judge and board are about to enter court and direct all parties to activate their respective “mute” buttons’. Obiter has visions of a sergeant major barking ‘By the right, Zoom platform MUTE!’, but apparently it isn’t quite that regimental.
But going virtual means no relaxation in dress formalities. The protocol asserts sternly that the judge will be robed, board members and the defendant will wear service dress while civilians are ‘to wear suits or smart civilian attire’.
Judging by the chaos we have seen in virtual trials over the past few months, the protocol might be usefully circulated in civvy street.