Since the UK government announced a full lockdown on 23 March, the civil Courts of England and Wales have moved quickly to take measures to ensure that hearings can continue to be heard despite the Coronavirus outbreak which limits public gatherings. Parties are encouraged to use video and/or telephone technology so that, where possible, hearings may be carried out remotely during the lockdown period.
On Monday, 30 March, Paddy Gardiner and Jessica Welch of the Simkins Disputes team commenced a four day trial, originally listed to be heard in the Rolls Building in London but which was instead conducted remotely using Skype for Business. The Judge, the parties, their legal advisers and the witnesses all joined remotely from their different locations, including the Defendant’s witness who is based in Italy and who required a translator. The translator and Court transcriber were able to carry out their functions as if the hearing had taken place in a court room and the Judge made an order to enable members of the public and the press to access a video link of the hearing, to ensure that the principle of open justice could be maintained and respected.
After a few initial minor obstacles (including webcams not working and microphones being muted!) the process was relatively straightforward and, for the most part, continuity was maintained and the day’s hearing followed as much of a normal course as possible. Although attending court from your own home is not without its challenges, the speed at which the courts have responded to the ongoing crisis and the practical measures which have been put into place have helped to ensure that business as usual continues where possible.