Remote online hearings of social security appeals at the First Tier tribunal will begin this autumn in the next phase of courts modernisation, the senior president of tribunals has revealed. In a speech to the Administrative Law Bar Association published by the judiciary today, The Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder said that the tribunal would pilot 'asynchronous conversations so that we can conduct some live hearings without the need for a disabled user to face a difficult journey to a hearing room'.
Evidence will also be shared digitally with the Department for Work and Pensions, he said.
In other updates on the £1bn modernisation programme, Ryder said that the Tax Chamber is trialling a process in which four different participants communicate with each other from different locations in 'a short contested hearing with a record taken of the whole process'. While this is still at an early stage, he suggested that some face-to-face hearings would be replaced by the procedure. 'The obvious best use is for case management but the method may also be suitable for other purposes,' he said.
However judges and practitioners will need training 'and there are interesting behavioural issues to be thought through', he noted. 'We will need to guarantee open justice as well as access to justice. We may trial live streaming: the court of appeal civil division will be following the Supreme Court’s lead on that in the next legal year.'
Ryder stressed that, while the modernisation programme involves identifying common technologies for use across courts and tribunals, there is no plan for a 'one size fits all' system. 'Each tribunal and court will use digital tools in different ways, respecting their specialist traditions and the needs of their users.' What may be appropriate for an inquisitorial problem-solving environment such as benefits appeals 'is unlikely to be appropriate for an adversarial hearing where both article 6 and 8 are engaged', he said.
He portrayed the modernisation programme as part of a process that began with the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 which provides the basis of all claims arising from a single dispute being dealt with by a single judge. ’ We are moving to single-jurisdiction solutions in property, housing, Equality Act and dismissal compensation claims. More will follow.’