USEFUL GUIDANCE ON REMOTE HEARINGS: FROM START TO FINISH
I am grateful to barristers Rebecca Musgrove and Iain Hutchinson who have sent me a copy (and permission to circulate) of their guide to remote hearings. It provides step by step guidance (and photographs) to help those unfamilar with the process.
The guidance is available in full here.
Remote Hearings – West Yorkshire Procedure.
Remote Hearings Overview
1. At present within West Yorkshire there are two types of remote hearings
i. Audio Only: This is the system already used regularly provided by telephone Hearings/ BTMeetMe Audio.
ii. Audio & Video: This is provided by ‘Skype for Business’. It is proposed this be used for the majority of hearings identified within the President’s guidance note.
Audio only Conferences – how to take part.
BT Meet Me
1. This is the system that has been in place for Courts to conduct telephone hearings. It requires the Court or the Applicant to pre-arrange what is in effect a conference call for a set time.
2. Such meetings can only take place in set time slots and cannot be flexible.
3. When these have been used in the past sometimes the Court clerk has dialled the advocates who then have a couple of minutes before the hearing before connecting to the Judge for the hearing. In other instances advocates have dialled in. For some individuals calling from a mobile phone rather than a landline this seems to create difficulties and they are unable to connect. It is understood BT will have an 0800 number and a local number that can be tried.
4. It is important to clarify prior to the hearing whether the Court or the Applicant has booked/arranged the telephone hearing and for the relevant details to be communicated 24 hours in advance of the hearing.
5. The disadvantage of this system is that it doesn’t allow for discussions between advocates for the hearings.
6. For obvious reasons it works well for Litigants in Person as they can be called when the hearing is due to start and can connect.
7. It seems the least problematic way is if advocates are called by the ‘host’ of the call which will likely be the Court.
8. This system does record hearings which is therefore in accordance with the current guidance.
9. It is likely the ‘BT’ system will need to continue to be used for LIP. Relying on an external provider creates capacity issues. The current understanding is that as this is relied upon by more court centres, there will be a lack of availability for telephone hearing ‘slots’ .
Audio & Video Link – SKYPE FOR BUSINESS
1. There are many easy and powerful ways to host a video hearing/meeting with all advocates attending remotely. Once set up, the process can operate smoothly and will allow for pre-hearing discussions, the recording of the hearing and for the matter to be ‘stood down’ for further discussions if required.
2. There are many different types of software that can provide video conference facilities. For example listed below are some of the most common that you may already use:
a. Skype for Business
c. Microsoft Teams
e. Amazon Chime.
3. All practitioners will be aware of the HMCTS Guidance that the Judiciary all now have ‘Skype for Business’ on their electronic devices. In order for video hearings to take place, practitioners must also download ‘Skype for Business’.
4. The primary reason for using Skype for Business is it enables Judges to record the Hearing and the store the recordings on the relevant HMCTS system.
5. Skype for Business can be downloaded and used on deskptops/laptops/ipads/tablets and mobile phones.
6. Practitioners may wish to think about the following when using video and audio technology:
a. Where video technology is used it is expected advocates will still wear appropriate Court attire
b. The use of a headset with built in microphone (either USB or Bluetooth) will likely increase the quality of the call. It may also minimise any sound that can be heard from people typing on keyboards. A headset would also ensure that no one nearby you can hear what is being said in the hearing.
c. Give consideration to the height of your camera and ensure you can be clearly seen
d. Give consideration to what will be seen in the background of your video call. You may wish to find a neutral background.
Compatibility with ‘Microsoft Teams’
7. A large proportion of Court users will already have access to ‘Microsoft Teams’, this is the latest software provided by Microsoft. It is designed to update and replace ‘Skype for Business’, for example it is now the communication software used by the NHS to support virtual meetings. Microsoft’s intention is that by 31 July 2021 it will entirely replace ‘Skype for Business’. As a result it is provided as part of the Office 365 package and a significant number of Solicitor’s firms/chambers already use it.
8. The Judicial system does not yet use Microsoft Teams and unfortunately, whilst it is technically possible, it is not straightforward to host virtual meetings/hearings where the Court and some advocates are using ‘Skype for Business’ and some of the advocates are using Microsoft Teams. The focus has to be setting up a straightforward and easy to use system. For that everyone has to use to same service. The service will be ‘Skype for Business’
9. For those users who use Microsoft Teams regularly, there is no requirement to uninstall it and replace it with ‘Skype for Business’. As long as you install ‘Skype for Business’ as well then you will be able to engage with remote court hearings. You can continue to use Microsoft Teams internally within your business.
10. This document will provide guidance on the following
a. User Guide 1 – Downloading ‘Skype for Business’
b. User Guide 2 – How Hearings will Be Arranged And Function – For Laptop/Desktop Users (For those with emails linked to Microsoft 365)
c. User Guide 3- How Hearings will Be Arranged And Function – For Laptop/Desktop Users (For those without emails linked to Microsoft 365)
d. User Guide 4- How to use Skype for Business during the Hearing (for all users)
e. User Guide 5 – Guide On How Hearings Will Operate – For iPad And iPhone
If you read the document in full it gives detailed pictorial guidance as to to conduct various types of online meetings.