Barristers “do not want remote hearings rolled back”

Remote hearings: Fewer technological issues

Barristers do not want to see “progress on remote hearings rolled back” and almost half would like the number to be increased, a report by the Bar Council has found.

In what it described as the first evaluation of remote hearings from lawyers’ point of view, the Bar Council called for a “principled and consistently applied approach” to their use.

It was “staggering” that, “despite clear recommendations from a range of stakeholders over several years”, HM Courts and Tribunal service (HMCTS) had been collecting “only trial provisional data on remote hearings since February 2023, collected only partial data before that, has not analysed or published the data it has, is not carrying out ongoing monitoring/evaluation, and has no imminent plans to reintroduce data collection”.

Researchers went on: “It appears from the analysis we have undertaken on the limited (unpublished) HMCTS data, that judges justifiably recognise the unknowable impact of remote hearings on justice and are responding by using the ‘interests of justice’ test and curtailing their use.”

In the report, A lens on justice: the move to remote justice, researchers analysed a combination of the available HMCTS data and five of the Bar Council’s own surveys of the profession.

They found that there had been a “significant and steep decline” in the use of remote hearings from the peak of 58% at the peak of Covid to 25%.

Although there was a decrease in all types of remote hearings, the “steepest decline” was in hearings conducted using BT MeetMe.

The growth of in-person hearings from 2022 to 2023 was “most marked” in the family courts, increasing by 46% and the civil courts by 34%, with the Crown Courts seeing a smaller increase of only 14%.

The south of England saw the biggest shift from remote to in-person, with the South-West, South-East and London leading the way. The smallest changes were in the North-East, Midlands and Wales.

Almost half (49%) of all barristers said remote hearings should be used more frequently, with 38% saying it was ‘about right at the moment’.

The report said “many argued that consistency in application and procedural clarity is needed”, particularly barristers providing publicly funded services.

“Some progress” appeared to have been made to the infrastructure, with just over a third of barristers saying they had experienced technical problems with the court video platform in 2023, compared to 77% in 2021.

The Bar Council recommended that HMCTS improve data collection and monitoring commit to regularly publishing data.

HMCTS should support the judiciary “in regular review of protocols for the use of remote hearings, with particular attention to the consistency of application”.

The Ministry of Justice should commit to evaluating potential justice outcomes and procedural impacts, “significantly invest in the technology/tech support around remote hearings”, and consider the views of users.

In his foreword to the report, Sam Townend, chair of the Bar Council, called for a “principled and consistently applied approach” to the use of remote hearings, “one that uses remote hearings more regularly where it is efficient to do so, and which allows for greater certainty and predictability for all court participants including barristers, solicitors and litigants.

“In areas facing the greatest backlogs, with higher than desirable ineffective hearing rates, such as the Crown Court, this might contribute towards greater productivity, as well as allowing all concerned to better plan their professional and personal diaries.”

  • Well-known criminal and international human rights practitioner Kirsty Brimelow KC has been elected as vice-chair of the Bar Council for 2025. She will join Barbara Mills KC, the 2025 chair, and Lucinda Orr, the 2025 treasurer, to make up the first all-female officer team for the Bar Council in its 130-year history.

    A former chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Ms Brimelow practises from Doughty Street Chambers. Ms Orr is an employed barrister at London firm Enyo Law.

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