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New video hearings pilot will test “more robust software”

Video hearings: Technology came in for criticism

Video hearings are set to be piloted for a second time in the tax tribunal, this time using “robust” technology after questions were raised about its reliability last year, the Senior President of Tribunals has revealed.

Meanwhile, some 60 case officers are expected to be in post and carrying out judicial functions in tribunals by this summer, many without a legal qualification and double the number that were announced a year ago.

The news came in the latest innovation plans [1] for the modernisation of tribunals by Sir Ernest Ryder.

The second pilot of fully-video hearings will take place in the tax tribunal beginning “in early spring” and end in the autumn, after a small pilot [2] took place in the first half of last year.

Concerns were voiced that video in courts used unreliable technology [3] and that after piloting ended, specialist technology help would not be readily available.

Sir Ernest said the new pilot would use “more robust software” and test “both scale and additional hearing types”.

It would benefit from the results of video pilots in the civil and family jurisdictions, he said. The family pilot was announced in January [4] and one in the county court in November [5].

Last month judges were told [6] that they, not the HMCTS, would decide whether video hearings would be held in a given case.

A further project during 2019 will examine equipment requirements to enable digital evidence presentation and live video hearings in all tribunals. It has already begun in tax and employment tribunals in Birmingham and London.

All civil and family video pilots will be evaluated by the London School of Economics.

Other modernisation projects announced by the judge covered the digitisation of social security and child support appeals, immigration and asylum appeals, and employment tribunals.

Sir Ernest also revealed that detailed strategic modernisation plans for tribunals would be published “within months” and were being finalised by judges and HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) because of their “financial, commercial and people implications”.

Among them is one for the use of authorised officers – formerly called case officers – to reduce the burden on tribunal judges by undertaking judicial functions that do not determine the substantive outcome of a case.

In April 2018, a report said 32 such tribunal case officers were in post. Decisions they make are automatically reviewable on application to a judge without an appeal.

The report said: “The protocol setting out the details of each case officer, their functions, supervision, mentoring and training has now been developed and applications are now being made by tribunal presidents for authorised officers to undertake functions permitted in practice directions.”