The Future of Legal Support in the Digital Age

Last month (June 2021), The Legal Education Foundation (LEF) published a report titled ‘Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on tribunal hearings: The experience of tribunal judges’. The LEF surveyed tribunal juridical office holders who had observed remote hearings between March and July 2020 and this report provides an analysis of their experiences.

The Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Keith Lindblom commented on the findings of the report: “As we consider how best to go forward in the tribunals when the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, we must look back at what has worked well and what has not. With this in mind, I am grateful for the work that the LEF have put into the survey and the report on its findings.”

Remote Hearings and The Introduction of New Technology

Adapting to telephone and video hearings has not been without its challenges and the courts must improve guidance and support to parties should they wish to continue practising remote tribunal hearings post-pandemic. The report highlights specific concern surrounding arrangements for accessing papers, which has prompted the LEF to call for HM Courts & Tribunals Service to provide checklists to each party prior to hearings to ensure everyone is in possession of the necessary papers and therefore less likely to make an application to appeal.

In addition to increased guidance, the LEF is requesting for a number of changes to the Cloud Video platform’s functionality. The Cloud platform, which has been officially chosen for use in tribunals throughout England and Wales, is proving alarmingly unpopular among tribunal judges. The report reveals that more than 30% of respondents to the survey rated the platform as unsatisfactory, owing to issues with video and audio quality, as well as problems with feedback, distortion and lagging. The incompatibility of the platform with several browsers, and its incapacity to cope with slow broadband speeds, were also raised as concerns.

Are Remote Hearings Here to Stay Post-Pandemic?

Out of 1,500 judicial office holders, the majority of respondents reported requiring several devices to conduct remote hearings and therefore having to purchase additional equipment. There is also a general consensus that remote hearings are more laborious than those conducted in person, on account of being more time consuming and requiring increased concentration in order to navigate new technology.

At AM Davies, we acknowledge that the rapid adoption of new technology by the courts has been both a benefit and a challenge.   Our own experience of on-line hearings in the past 12 months is that the technology has been constantly improving for the parties, witnesses and the judiciary, although distracting issues do still frequently arise.  Benefits of the on-line hearings system include savings in time (and therefore money), and the convenience of not having to travel to court.  Disadvantages include poor set-up by parties and witnesses making it sometimes difficult to see their faces, and a reduction in the judicial separation and dignity which traditionally underlines the authority of the court’s decisions.

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