The technological limitations of remote court hearings

For years court rooms have contemplated remote hearings to speed up the process and cut down on travel time, costs, and effort. The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly accelerated this process, with court rooms already holding hearings virtually. While it is a convenient, safe way to approach the virus, how effective are remote hearings? What are the limitations to the technology and the ability for the court to do its job?

Urgent cases

Courts are mainly using remote hearings for urgent and more significant cases. They are holding them in a virtual meeting room, which provides the ability for the court to carry out cases without being in the same physical space. According to the personal injury solicitors McGinley, personal injury cases are typically seen as urgent and will be facilitated by remote hearings. When a case is qualified for a virtual hearing, the court provides each party the case details, outlining hardware requirements and details needed to log-in the day of the hearing at the same time. Each hearing requires updated log-in details.

Technology involved

The video software runs on tablets, PCs, laptops, or a smartphone, allowing participants to join in through different platforms such as Zoom and Skype. You can also copy the link that is provided by the courts directly into an internet browser and follow the prompts. One obstacle is that a strong internet connection is needed for everyone involved, with microphone and capabilities. If you are not addressing the court you can disable the camera, but those who are need to speak with the court will have to wear the formal attire required by the courtroom.

Each party will receive a participant form from the court that must be completed by logging on from each party and providing an undertaking from each side. The party will have to agree not to give out the log-in details to a third party. This could potentially cause problems, it could be pretty easy to take down the information.

Court proceedings

The court registrar sits in their usual spot, going through the list in the usual manner calling each case. The Judge remains in the chambers. Another practical consideration is that a video streaming program like Skype or Zoom could be blocked from their computer by a firewall. It is key to ensure that everyone has access to the platform before attempting to log-in that morning. An issue that has occurred is that there may be a flaw in the link provided to the parties. The courts typically only receive documents by appointment.

Should a party refuse to participate in court proceedings without an excuse the court deems valid, there may be an order may be made in their absence. Keep in mind that the court may insist that all documents and notifications of the hearing should be properly served as normal before making an order.

Another obstacle is that the person who needs to swear upon a Bible or another text, they will need to have the bound book with them. But when you do so, all of the oaths and affirmations have the same effect as they do normally.

What cases qualify?

If you think that your case is urgent enough to be included in the remote hearings, you can request that it is added to the list. Then the court will make the decision on whether you should be accommodated in this regard. Other parties may object, however. While the cases being conducted remotely are based on their urgency, this may change as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world. Soon most hearings could be rehote. So if you think your case should be heard remotely, get started by requesting a virtual hearing with the court.

The future of remote hearings

While it will still take time to transition to remote hearings, when the kinks are worked out it will be much smoother. With only a number of courts with the capabilities to hold hearings, these abilities will need to be increased to further the court’s processes. Preparing for a remote hearing is a little different than going to a hearing in person but it is completely necessary to follow court proceedings and etiquette. Some people may forget that court remains formal, despite being in court from the comfort of their home. Only time will tell how remote hearings will shake out, but one thing’s for sure. Some things are being accelerated, for better or worse, when it comes to virtual activities in the wake of COVID-19.