Obiter suspects some judges and practitioners are still enjoying the novelty of remote hearings. Certainly, there was a pleasant (virtual) atmosphere for McDermott v Sellafield last week, a whistleblowing case nominally heard at Manchester Employment Tribunal. In reality, employment judge Batten appeared from the tribunal behind a screen in her office, with barristers advocating from home.
Batten handled matters with aplomb, darting off-screen occasionally to pick up more papers and being patient when lawyers lost connection and appeared to freeze on screen. There was even time for her to compliment claimant counsel Chris Milsom on his choice of décor.
When it came to the turn of defendant counsel Deshpal Panesar QC, he apologised for what he called his ‘boring wall’, to which the judge replied: ‘Not at all. It looks an interesting shade of magnolia.’ She then apologised for her own backdrop, what she called standard MoJ blue.
Proceedings were keenly contested but retained this sense of bonhomie, guided by the genial Batten. When the one-day hearing finished, the judge warned observers in advance she would disconnect them, adding: ‘Time to put the kettle on I think.’