Maintaining access to justice and enabling people to exercise their rights and have effective participation in the legal system has never been more important than now. The judiciary are quickly adapting their ways of working to deliver justice during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Deputy Chamber President in Health, Education and Social Care, Meleri Tudur, has defaulted to conducting fully video hearings in the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) and Care Standards (CS) jurisdictions. The SEND jurisdiction has also been using salaried judiciary to support the entry of parties and panels into the hearings until judicial office holders are familiar with the software and sufficient staff are trained. Judge Tudur explains:
“Feedback from users and panels has been very positive to date. Many of our hearings have eight or ten participants, as well as the panel. Some local authority representatives are finding it difficult to join by video using corporate laptops because of firewalls, but every Kinly video hearing room has a dedicated telephone number permitting them to join by phone if they don’t have a video facility.”
The SEND jurisdiction has put effective planning in place to ensure digital bundles are available weeks in advance, enabling judicial office holders to have access to their bundles with plenty of preparation time. Judge Tudur has a team of 15 registrars who can be trained remotely by video to issue decisions, orders and update notes in the Generic Appeals Processing System, should the office move to a skeleton staff. The Chamber is now ready and prepared to cover all SEND and CS hearings remotely, subject to the good health of parties and panel members. Judge Tudur concludes:
“Through collaboration and effective use of technology, we have achieved so much in just a few days.”
Video hearings are also being used successfully in the Tax Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal (FtT), with Judge Barbara Mosedale presiding from her home and parties presiding from their homes or offices (if safe to do so).
Tuesday 24 March 2020 was the first time the FtT used video technology, which had previously only been piloted in the Chamber by a judge from home without support from the Video Hearings Team.
During the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, Judge Mosedale found the technology stable throughout, with no loss of signal, and parties adapted well to the new procedure. Judge Mosedale says:
“Both parties treated the hearing seriously and acted much as they would have done in a face-to-face hearing. They seemed grateful to have been given the option of a video hearing instead of postponement because of the pandemic.
If each participant has a laptop or desktop computer with a camera, broadband, and a paper or e-bundle, video hearing technology allows a hearing in the FtT Tax Chamber to proceed. We are in the process of arranging further hearings during the coming weeks.”
Currently, fully video hearings can only accommodate the judge and four participants, and the proceedings cannot be recorded. However, it is hoped that audio recording capability and support for up to seven participants, in addition to the judge, will be introduced from mid-May.
These are just two examples of how technology is being used to ensure the delivery of justice.
If you would like to share how you or your colleagues are continuing to deliver justice in these unprecedented times, please contact the Judicial Office Communications Team.