b'Local Government Lawyer 13negatively. And 83% of respondents wantedevaluating expressions and other humanthe demeanour of the witness and therefore virtual hearings to continue. Many otherresponses from witnesses; technologicalto judge any dispute of fact. Nuffield raises surveys have been carried out and reachedproblems; loss of opportunity to negotiatespecific concerns relating to parties in cases similar conclusions. on the court room steps; difficulties forinvolving domestic abuse, parties with a Gerard Forlin QC, of Cornerstone Barristers,technophobes and people without remotedisability or cognitive impairment or where an acting for nine of the 11 families in theaccess;not being able to hand upintermediary or interpreter is required. Shoreham Air disaster inquest, took part in aadditional documents (though it can be doneHowever, there is widespread agreement preliminary hearing through Zoom in June thiselectronically if the parties co-operate); and athat procedural hearings and the testimony year. Giving a response that many will share,potential lack of courtroom gravity. of expert witnesses work well enough online he says: It was a very good idea to do it atDannreuther says that submissions ofto make them worth continuing in future. that stage. It would have been too dangerousmine have gone unheard as the connectionSir Ernest Ryder says that the Tribunals are to have all those peopleperhaps 100inhas cut out, since, unfortunately, theworking on deciding whether a remote one room. I can see that being repeatedtechnology does not yet fully replicate theway of working ought to be a sustainable after the vaccine becomes available in certainlive in-person experience. She continues:additional channel for use for some of our situations. But in more substantial hearingsEqually, in-person hearings are likely tousers in some types of claim. Proceduralespecially where witnesses are involved be more appropriate where the issues arehearings would be included, he says, and even there will be less desire. particularly sensitive and the parties are laysome kinds of substantive ones. persons, as it is likely easier to understandForlin suggests a third route: There may Advantages what is happening in the physical courtbe hearings in the future that are hybridThese are mainly seen as: more efficientsetting, and the parties may not feel that apart live, part Zoom and possibly with some scheduling and time management of cases;telephone hearing is appropriate to deal withexpert and technical witnesses appearing by time and cost savings; easier last-minuteissues such as child removal or decisions thatZoom. liaison among clients and representatives; theaffect their fundamental human rights.ability to improve the online experience (by,Townsend is particularly concernedThe futurefor instance, providing second or third screensabout parties with no lawyers to help them:A body of information is building up on how to to lawyers); giving more opportunity to localIf one or both sides are not professionallyrun cases better in future. The Nuffield report government lawyers to develop their advocacyrepresented, the risk of unfairness, confusion,includes a section on Examples of good skills; and the fact that proceedings are usuallyand delay is significant. It is possible thesepractice and suggestions for future practice. recorded.risks could be addressed by careful guidanceAnd tribunal judges have been required to ask Anna Dannreuther, a barrister at Fieldand by costs sanctions, but in Aarhus claimsparties about their experiences and to include Court, says: Local government lawyers(broadly speaking environmental claims) thisthe issue in their judgments. One High Court and social workers have a busy caseload,may well not be effective due to the costsdecision that will frequently be looked at is and circumstances can change last minute.protection enjoyed by the Claimant. I wouldA Local Authority v The Mother & Ors [2020] Remote hearings make it easier for the wholetherefore suggest the courts proceed withEWHC 1233 (See also: Guidance from the High team to communicate online prior to, andextreme caution in cases where one or bothCourt on adjournments in care proceedings during, the hearing, meaning the most upparties is unrepresented. during the COVID-19 pandemic) in which to date and informed instructions are actedMr Justice Williams adjourned virtual care on. The ease and reduced cost of attendingproceedings after concluding, on a balancing remote hearings also means that moreThere may be hearings inof conflicting human rights, that the evidence members of the team can attend hearingsshould be heard in person.than before, which can assist with the efficientthe future that are hybridHM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) resolution of the case, as those with detailedis working on improving the technical aspects knowledge of a particular aspect of the case part live, part Zoom andof remote hearings so that these can continue can feed in as appropriate. in future. Early on in the covid crisis, HMCTS One local government lawyer whose staffpossibly with some expertidentified eight case and user types needing prefer remote hearings says: It has enabledadditional support (including domestic us to do more advocacy and manage timeand technical witnessesviolence, probate, housing possession and better due to more certainty over courtsocial security tribunals), and published a times. Electronic bundles have workedappearing by Zoom Vulnerable User Action Plan. Such initiatives well and are preferred. Harriet Townsendfit Ministry of Justice initiatives to support the of Cornerstone Barristers says: RemoteWitnesses digital transformation of the UK legal sector.working can be beneficial for training/sharingWitness cross-examination is particularlyLocal government lawyers are generally of information within the authority in thatproblematic, according to the Nuffieldmaking the case for remote courts to those who might not have been able to justifyreport and many users. A virtual court is notcontinue. Briton, who is also Gateshead attendance in person, can join and observeusually as effective a forum for examinationCouncils Licensing, Litigation, Employment the proceedings. of witnesses for a host of reasons, saysand Education Manager, says: We should not Townsend. Two factors she highlights are thatlose sight of the fact that [remote] hearings Disadvantages the witness may be alone and unsupported/ allow the parties to hear and be heard.These are mainly seen as: the more tiringguided/controlled by their own advocate; and nature of virtual hearings; difficultiesthat it is harder for the tribunal to interpretNeasa MacErlean is a freelance journalist.'