Remote hearings invaluable but concerns remain

A report on the use of remote hearings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was published by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) on Friday 10 December.

“Remote hearings have been an invaluable tool in keeping the justice system operating during the pandemic,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“However, the evaluation of their use by HMCTS reflects concerns we have raised that in some scenarios they are unsuitable and can have a serious impact on access to justice and may not be suitable for vulnerable people.

“Our own research found that only 16% of solicitors felt vulnerable clients were able to participate effectively in remote hearings, and only 45% were confident that non-vulnerable clients could do so.*

“It is particularly concerning to see that around three in five judicial respondents and just over half of legal representatives responding to HMCTS felt that remote hearings impacted their health and well-being, given that we know legal professionals are overstretched and under immense pressure.

“The suggestion that remote hearings take longer than in-person hearings should be considered carefully as efforts continue to tackle the backlog and ensure efficient justice.

“The report makes the important point that the perceived safety benefits of being able to remain at home may have driven up satisfaction with remote hearings. Given that Plan B measures are being introduced to combat a rise in COVID cases, we hope there will be an accommodating approach from the judiciary to our members and other court users appearing remotely during this period.

“We hope this evaluation will help to inform constructive discussions about the future use of remote hearings.”

Notes to editors

Read the HMCTS evaluation of remote hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic research report

Read the Law Society report on the impact of COVID-19 measures on access to justice and vulnerable people

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