Costs News

02 July 2020
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HMCTS to roll out video platform to civil courts to enable more remote hearings

A new video platform enabling more remote cases to be heard is being rolled out to the civil and family courts, ministers confirmed yesterday.

HM Courts and Tribunals’ (HMCTS) recovery plan to get the whole justice system moving again after lockdown makes clear that the transfer of some costs assessments to the Legal Aid Agency, “following consultation”, is part of the blueprint. As we reported last week, practitioners have pushed back strongly against this.

The extension of the Cloud Video Platform (CVP) – which has now been implemented in 60 Crown Courts and 93 magistrates’ courts – is a key plank of the plan, which also includes exploring options for extended operating hours and using other buildings as courts (so-called Nightingale courts) to increase capacity.

On civil, HMCTS said receipts have “dropped sharply”, as many of those who make bulk claims (often utility companies chasing unpaid bills) have suspended their activities; “disposals also dropped as we reduced in-person hearings, though thousands of audio and video hearings have taken place”.

However, the Business and Property Court has “maintained administrative performance throughout” and has no backlogs outside standard turnaround times.

The focus in the civil courts will be on increasing listing for cases across county courts, testing the use of the CVP, the transfer of legal aid cases and restarting possession cases in August.

HMCTS said the extension to county courts will take place “over the next few months to cover every civil and family court site”. It is being rolled out to further Crown and magistrates’ courts this month, with a view to being available in all our criminal courtrooms by the end of July.

The CVP – which has been used in 3,600 Crown Court hearings and more than 7,000 overnight remand cases heard by magistrates – can be accessed by any device that has a camera and a microphone.

HMCTS said: “Anyone can join easily, and securely, through a web browser, and sessions can be locked to make sure only appropriate parties join. Training rooms can also be set up so that sessions may be rehearsed before they go live.”

Courts minister Chris Philp MP said: “We have worked closely with the judiciary to continue thousands of hearings during the pandemic. This new system will bolster our efforts to prioritise urgent cases and increase our capacity to hear them remotely – ensuring justice is delivered effectively and safely.”

Separately, minutes from this month’s meeting of the Commercial Court Users Group showed how the court has been able to carry on largely as normal while operating remotely, with only four scheduled trials proving unworkable.

Mrs Justice Cockerill told the meeting that judges, court staff and users were “actively thinking” about whether to keep remote or at least hybrid hearings as a default position “or at least an often-used option for some types of hearings post-Covid”, with interlocutory matters unlikely to return to in-person hearings for some time. The Chancery and Queen’s Bench Divisions are having similar discussions.

This is in line with the recent Civil Justice Council review of the response to Covid-19, which found support for costs hearings staying remote and that large law firms were eyeing up a long-term move to more remote hearings.

The minutes also said there was unlikely to be more guidance on e-bundles as that from the judiciary and Commercial Bar Association was sufficient: “The judges would find it very helpful if the users followed the guidance i.e. bookmarking, ensuring bundle numbering matches the PDF pages.”

 

Picture credit: Chris Philp MP, courtesy of parliament.uk. Used under an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence (cropped)

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