Justice by video is to become a reality after the government announced that it is to pilot video hearings for tax appeals.
The head of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said video hearings could offer lawyers “significant opportunities”.
The latest step in the court modernisation programme will take video evidence a step further by enabling all parties to take part over the internet from wherever they want, although the judge will be in a courtroom.
The Ministry of Justice said HMCTS – which is writing to potential participants this week – would work closely with the judiciary “to ensure that the majesty of the courtroom” was upheld.
The choice to have a video hearing will always be made by the judge, while it will be possible to have private online discussions before the hearing. The format and process will be the same as a regular hearing.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: “Video hearings have the potential to improve access to justice and speed up cases.
“This pilot will provide important information- together with an increasing body of evidence from other countries – to drive innovation to make the wider system quicker, smarter and much more user-friendly.”
In a blog, HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood stressed that fully video hearings would not be mandated “at this point” and would not be used for non-summary criminal trials.
She said they would be “particularly appropriate” for ‘progress’ hearings just involving lawyers, but there might be some cases involving the public where video hearings could make justice “more accessible”.
Ms Acland-Hood said a trial last autumn in a small number of case management hearings in the immigration and asylum chamber of the First-tier Tribunal had proven successful.
“This proof of concept has been a real eye-opener on what can be achieved when we get the technology right,”she wrote.
“It has involved numerous challenges and complexities, but our discussions with participating legal firms are revealing significant opportunities for them, including being able to attend multiple hearings in a day without having to travel between court buildings.”