Court Service to test ‘virtual hearing’ prototype

Virtual hearing: will not be imposed on parties

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is working with Microsoft to build a prototype for a fully virtual hearing, which will tested in October, it has emerged.

The latest development in the £1bn modernisation of the courts and tribunals, it will pilot virtual case management hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, involving judges, HMCTS staff, lawyers and Home Office presenting officers.

Fiona Rutherford, who leads HMCTS’s business strategy and design team, said the vision was to offer a range of hearing options to all jurisdictions, “including the fully virtual option”, to hearings that still have one or more parties within a physical courtroom but with access to new systems and technology to use video or telephony more effectively.

“Not only will this increase flexibility for our users by reducing the need for time-pressed citizens, legal and other justice professionals to travel back and forth to and wait around in our court buildings, it will also reduce the time and risk associated with transporting prisoners,” she wrote on the Inside HMCTS blog.

“We will not mandate virtual hearings – these will only take place where the court or tribunal considers that it is in the interests of justice.

“We are working closely with the jurisdictional service projects to work out which users, which hearings and which case types will be suitable for remote working.”

With video links and telephone conference technology already used to a limited extent in the courts, Ms Rutherford said that “to achieve effective fully virtual hearings, where all parties including the judge, are remote from the court room, we must look at the interactions that currently take place immediately before and after the hearing to make sure we replicate this important activity and, where possible, enhance it”.

She added: “By designing this new service around those who will use it, including those who are seeking justice as well as our justice partners, the judiciary and our staff, we give ourselves the best chance of identifying the right technology required and the right capability and processes to run it.”

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