An entire trial is being conducted over Skype in a legal first that lawyers say could be a model way to ensure court business continues during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the Court of Protection case, Mr Justice Mostyn is being asked to decide whether it is in the best interests of a man in his 70s to have the clinically assisted nutrition and hydration he receives through a tube, withdrawn.

The man suffered a major stroke in 2016. He is not in a vegetative state, or minimally conscious, but conscious and sentient, the court heard. 

His daughter and GP disagree over his treatment and the local clinical commissioning group (CCG) has asked the court to determine the course to take.

In the three-day hearing, which started yesterday, the judge, lawyers, 11 witnesses, three experts and two journalists, joined the hearing online through Skype for Business, which enables everyone to see and hear those taking part, as well as allowing the hearing to be recorded.

The judge decided that the hearing should be conducted over Skype to enable it to proceed without risking the health of any of the participants, some of who are in vulnerable groups or live with people who are.

At the end of the first day, John McKendrick QC, a barrister at Outer Temple Chambers, representing the man’s GP, told the Gazette: 'It was very effective, and allowed for full and fair participation by all parties, using a laptop from their home or office.'

He said: 'It’s a necessary step – it’s important for the rule of law to ensure the courts continue to function during this crisis.'

Nageena Khalique, QC, of Serjeant’s Inn, representing the CCG, said: 'It could be used as a model to keep the system going, keep justice accessible and to alleviate the anxiety of parties who otherwise might have to wait a long time for hearings to take place in court.'

Update 1200: In a message to judges today, the lord chief justice said that both the civil and family courts could move to telephone and video hearings. 'Any legal impediments will be dealt with.'  On the criminal courts, he said: 'Particular problems are likely to be encountered in both the magistrates' courts and the Crown courts, to which careful thought is being given.'


*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.

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