Among other things, Britain’s biggest fraud trial, currently running at the Rolls Building in London, is providing a glimpse into the future of video hearings. For better or for worse. Last week, the marathon civil action brought by Hewlett-Packard against former executives of Autonomy, a UK start-up it acquired in 2011, heard by video from Christopher Egan, the British company’s former US head of sales.
Egan, currently in California, was carefully lined up to face the camera. Until, while taking the oath, he of course stood up and the UK courtroom was treated to a headless torso promising to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’.
Later in Egan’s cross-examination, one of the US attorneys sitting with him suddenly declared: ‘Sorry, the screen has switched to show Mr Egan himself. Can we take a break for a moment, please?’ Mr Justice Hildyard, presiding, kept his countenance as technicians swarmed over the US end of the link. Egan himself got up and wandered out of shot, just in time for the technicians to disconnect the link altogether.
‘I found the witness most interesting,’ muttered a clearly displeased Hildyard J, pointedly studying his fingertips. Even when the link was restored, gremlins continued to strike: around 20 minutes later both display screens in the courtroom powered down, leaving Robert Miles QC cross-examining a black screen.
Working to California time is producing other strains. Although the hearing is listed as sitting to 6pm London time, HMCTS staff are refusing to let anyone enter the Rolls Building after around 4.40pm. This leads to a 4.30pm rush as juniors in the legal teams dash off to collect last-chance coffee orders for the front benches.
Defendants Dr Mike Lynch and Sushovan Hussain deny HP’s claims. The case continues.