SKYPE HEARINGS AND APPEALS: COURT OF APPEAL ARE STEPPING ON THE GAS…
Teesside Gas Transportation Ltd v Cats North Sea Ltd & Ors  EWCA Civ 503 demonstrated that Court of Appeal hearings can take place remotely.
“I have explained how this hearing was undertaken in an attempt to demonstrate the flexibility of the arrangements that can be made, with the cooperation of the parties and their lawyers, to continue to deliver fair, open and transparent justice in a period of national difficulty.”
The Court heard an appeal relating to the amount payable for the right to use part of a pipeline.
THE JUDGMENT OF SIR GEOFFREY VOS
In a short judgment Sir Geoffrey Vos explained the process by which the appeal was heard.
Sir Geoffrey Vos, Chancellor of the High Court :
I entirely agree with Males LJ’s judgment. I want only to mention briefly the way in which the hearing of this appeal was conducted. Thanks to the hard work and cooperation of court staff, the parties and their lawyers, this appeal was conducted entirely remotely by the use of Skype for Business. It was completed comfortably within the 1.5-day estimate, and both leading counsel had a proper opportunity to make their submissions, to confer with their junior counsel, and to take proper instructions from their instructing solicitors and clients. It was obviously not possible during the current coronavirus pandemic for the hearing safely to be conducted in court whilst observing the necessary social distancing. Some 19 individuals, including the members of the court, were signed in to the Skype conferencing facility at any one time.
During the hearing, Practice Direction 51Y came into force for a temporary period to cater for video and audio hearings during the pandemic. It provides that, where the court directs that proceedings are to be conducted wholly in that way, and it is not practicable for the hearing to be broadcast in a court building, the court may direct that the hearing must take place in private where it is necessary to do so to secure the proper administration of justice. The parties accepted that these criteria applied to this hearing and accordingly the court made an order on the second day of the hearing that the hearing should take place in private. These judgments will, of course, be published.
The civil courts are dealing at this time with a rapidly moving situation. They are undertaking urgent business, and, so far as possible, business as usual, so as to avoid delays and backlogs building up during the period of lock-down caused by the pandemic. Most importantly of all, judges are taking every step they possibly can to avoid the risk of unnecessary transmission of the coronavirus.