As a divorce lawyer based in London during lockdown much of my world has moved online- it is not ideal but at least the work of the courts has continued. The advances in the use technology noted in this useful article by Marialuisa Taddia in the Law Society Gazette must surely be welcome but I have also seen some changes that are less welcome.
Here are my four ideas to improve remote Hearings:
1. One universal platform for facilitating and conducting the remote hearings to remove confusion and unnecessary delays in parties (and Judges) logging on;
2. Visibility for the Judge to see all parties and counsel but with the option of the party giving evidence not to be visible by the ex spouse/opposition, if so requested. This can protect those who are vulnerable and do not want to give evidence in front of the opposition giving them greater protective measures (almost like a virtual screen in the witness box);
3. A way to ensure that those parties giving evidence are taking the matter seriously, as if they were actually in the Court room. I've heard stories of witnesses playing on their phones and laying in bed during the remote Hearing and therefore there needs to be a way of ensuring accountability and respect when being cross examined albeit giving their evidence from their bedroom; and
4. Encouragement for hybrid Hearings with the client and their legal team (counsel and their solicitor) to attend the Hearing together (albeit remotely) to ensure support and cohesiveness on the day.
Proposals for an ‘online court’ were already behind schedule when 90% of hearings switched overnight to remote proceedings. As the coronavirus recovery plan kicks in, Marialuisa Taddia finds out how far the reform programme has come