Court reform

Positive news as police reinstate use of video remand hearings

In October 2020, it was revealed that police forces could no longer afford to support HM Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) during the pandemic by running video remand hearings (VRH) from their custody suites.

The police withdrew from full participation in VRH in December 2020 “due to the significant pressure operating this technology places on staffing resources in police custody suites”.

Since October, we've been lobbying hard for a solution to be found that would reinstate Cloud Video Platform (CVP) remand hearings, with a key focus being on the safety of all court users.

HMCTS has recently confirmed that a number of police stations and courts have reverted to undertaking remand hearings via CVP.

“Since learning that police forces were withdrawing from facilitating video remand hearings, we have been calling for their restoration,” said Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene.

“During this unprecedented health crisis, anything that can minimise the number of people having to appear at court for matters which could be reasonably dealt with via remote means, both helps keep our members and other court users safe and helps keep the courts open and able to tackle the backlogs.

“We are pleased to see that the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have agreed funding to support the reintroduction of video remand hearings for all defendants in several locations and hope that this is the first step towards restoring their use more widely.”

The concerns we raised

The news around police withdrawal of CVP for remand hearings immediately preceded announcements by England and Wales for further national lockdowns as the second wave was developing.

Some of the key concerns we highlighted with HMCTS and other key stakeholders, including the lord chancellor and lord chief justice, focused on:

  • the impact on the volume of cases that were being dealt with remotely, whether HMCTS had assessed how many more face-to-face hearings they would have to deal with and what impact this would have on the courts
  • how far the health guidelines and social distancing limits would prevent courts from dealing with these cases and whether there would be knock-on effects for other cases
  • whether the prison delivery services would be able to cope with the demands this would place on them – essentially requiring them to return to pre-pandemic prisoner delivery volumes
  • what the impact would be on our members, whether they would be able to attend remotely, and if so, how would they engage with their clients

What's been done

HMCTS confirmed that it's been able to secure agreement with the majority of forces for policing to continue operating limited access to VRH for any defendants in custody with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

It's also identified a number of locations where it can operate VRH for all defendants in police custody. These are:

  • Durham
  • Derbyshire
  • Devon and Cornwall
  • Norfolk
  • Suffolk
  • Gloucestershire

The courts which are operating VRH for these forces are Norwich, Ipswich, Truro, Plymouth, Exeter, Derby and Durham.

Kent is still carrying out VRH but only on the basis of warrants and breaches of bail, which we are told accounts for around 50% of the demand.

Listing practices will be affected in these areas, as defendants participating in remand hearings will appear remotely from custody instead of attending court during this time. The decisions with respect to listing are a matter for the judiciary

Next steps

The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have agreed a joint funding arrangement to support the reintroduction of VRH for all defendants at these custody suites until at least the end of the current financial year.

HMCTS states it will closely monitor operations during this period, assessing the impact that running VRH has in these locations and in the associated courts.

We will also closely monitor how these progress through our regular engagement with HMCTS.

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