New Technologies and the Future of Remote Hearings

Posted Thursday 8th July 2021

As various measures taken during the Covid-19 pandemic are slowly being lifted, many are wondering which of the changes are here to stay. To discuss this in the context of the justice system, Lord Chancellor delivered a speech at the Law Society on 4 June 2021.

Lord Chancellor reminded the audience that the temporary measures introduced during the pandemic should be seen as an opportunity to create a “more modern justice system”. In his view, one of the key ways to enable this is through the increased adoption of new technologies in courts and tribunals.

In particular, the speech emphasised the benefits of remote hearings, which were introduced by the Coronavirus Act 2020. Lord Chancellor points out the fact that the pandemic triggered the “fastest and most ambitious roll out of technology that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has ever seen”, with 3,200 hearing rooms suddenly becoming virtual. A record number of up to 20,000 hearings per week have made use of audio and video technology since the start of the pandemic, supporting the principle of open justice by allowing the press and public to easily attend.

Remote hearings are certainly something that will continue as an integral part of the justice system. The digitisation of the court and tribunal system will, as Lord Chancellor sees it, improve transparency and “build back a fairer country”, by increasing court capacity and making the service less intimidating and more accessible to those who use it.

A recent survey by Remote Courts Worldwide, however, highlights that there are still some roadblocks to a full digitisation of the court systems. While 52.7% of respondents believed remote proceedings would improve the efficiency of their judicial system, there are still major concerns around technical glitches, security and accessibility. In fact, out of the survey respondents, 50.4% had experienced video quality issues during remote proceedings.

Although such technical issues remain to be resolved, remote hearings clearly present an opportunity to improve people’s access to hearings and help to reduce court backlogs – especially when used in combination with other measures such as the prioritisation of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Some flexibility will, however, certainly be needed to assess the suitability of a remote hearing on a case by case basis – after all, the ability to adapt to particular needs is, as Lord Chancellor puts it, “one of the great strengths of our justice system”.

This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.

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