A pilot of fully video hearings in the civil courts is to be extended and turned from opt-in to opt-out, the Civil Procedure Rule Committee (CPRC) has decided.
The one-year pilot for applications to set aside default judgments in Manchester and Birmingham has “essentially been successful”, the committee was told, but volumes have been low and further testing was required.
Making it opt-out would “enable a more meaningful volume of hearings” to be analysed as part of the pilot’s independent evaluation.
A short-notice CPR update was published yesterday, saying that the pilot – which ended on 30 November 2019 – would recommence on 2 March and run until 30 November this year.
The parties or their legal representatives attend the hearing of the application from suitable IT equipment and see and hear, and are seen and heard by, each other and the judge.
Hearings are held in public by members of the public attending the court in person, where they can watch the judge and the parties or lawyers on a screen set up in the courtroom.
According to the newly published minutes of the committee’s December meeting, chair Lord Justice Coulson made it clear that, as a matter of principle, he was unhappy that the CPRC was being asked to agree to a new practice direction in a short space of time and for it to be implemented ahead of the usual April rules update.
However, the CPRC agreed to the change in principle, subject to a sub-committee viewing the screen that would make the new ‘opt out’ condition clear, which Coulson LJ said was now a standing practice with digital reform work, and agreeing the new practice direction.
The CPRC was told that the proposed changes did not require any additional judicial training and that the pilot would continue to operate within the principles of open justice.
This was the second video pilot following a small-scale pilot in the First-tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber) last year.
It had various problems, but as far as it went, an evaluation reported high levels of user satisfaction with the trial, mainly due to the convenience of not having to travel to a physical hearing.
There has also been a pilot of fully video pilots of first direction appointments in the family court, followed by further testing of short-notice family law applications in Manchester since last March.