COVID-19: Virtual hearings - what we've learned
Remote court hearings have very quickly become the "new normal". We've taken part in a fair few in recent weeks so wanted to share some practical tips that we hope will help those about to enter the virtual courtroom….
Who sets up the Skype arrangements?
- The judge's clerk has, in our experience, set up the Skype call. In one of our cases they emailed Counsel for each party with the Skype details on the basis that they could be shared with others that needed to attend. If Counsel is not instructed it will probably be the solicitors for each party.
Does everyone still dress as they would for an in-person court hearing?
- You probably won't get away with audio-only; Judges have seemed keen to see Counsel on video when they are making submissions rather than just having audio, so your favourite Simpsons T-shirt should stay in the cupboard for the duration of the hearing. (That said, solicitors have not tended to have video turned on, so we do not yet know what they have been wearing.)
- We have found that attendees have been suited, if perhaps not also booted.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail…
- Test your microphone and speaker set-up beforehand by having a Skype meeting with someone else (if you haven't already). This will uncover any issues with speakers or microphones. For optimum sound quality we would recommend using headphones that have a built-in microphone.
- Make sure your internet connection is strong. We also would suggest minimising the number of other applications running so as to reduce the risk of your computer crashing. (We have seen it happen to Counsel as he was being asked a question by the judge.)
- Make sure the room behind you looks professional and is well lit (but preferably not with a window right behind you otherwise your face may be shadowy).
- Inform family members that you cannot be interrupted unless there is a serious medical emergency or the house is burning down. Pets also need to be informed.
Joining the hearing
- To join the hearing just click on the link provided which brings up the Skype video conferencing facility (either in a web browser or via the Skype application if you have it on your computer). We have found that it is exactly the same as attending an internal Skype meeting, and so was very straightforward.
- Join early. We have seen a few people having teething issues which, on the whole, have been sorted out before the Judge came online and the hearing started (but we have seen some exceptions where the Judge has needed to intervene).
Speaking during the hearing
- Mute your microphone when not speaking. This is obvious but very important
- Try not to talk over people. The system struggles with that and usually nobody can hear anybody.