Gavel on sounding blockCivil judges have warned that trials involving oral evidence from witnesses are not suitable for video hearings.  Judges’ concerns have been revealed in responses to the ‘Judicial Ways of Working’ (JWoW) exercise by Courts and Tribunals Judiciary. 

Over 10,000 judges, panel members and magistrates responded to the consultation, expressing concern at The Ministry of Justice’s £1.2bn modernisation plans.  The Ministry is planning to cut over 6,500 court house and administration jobs by 2022 and introduce greater use of technology.

A summary of the overall responses to the JWoW exercise has been published by the Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton and Lord Justice Coulson, Deputy Head of Civil Justice.  The Heads of the Jurisdictions for Crime, Civil, Family and Tribunals have also published summaries of their findings.

Sir Terence and Lord Justice Coulson said that judges expressed concerned about the suitability of video for cases involving contested evidence.  “You explained that a judge needed to see the parties, to watch as well as to listen, and that meant being able to watch not just the witness but also the parties, the representatives, and the supporters in court,” they said.

Etherton and Coulson reassured judges that participation in video hearings would be at their discretion.  “Much will depend on the quality of the IT and equipment… we are a long way from the possibility that any final hearing with contested evidence will be regarded as suitable for a fully video hearing,” the report said.

They acknowledged that some uncontested hearings were suitable for video. Trial video hearings are already being used in tax tribunal appeals and county court set-aside judgements (see Brunel News January 2019).  A pilot of uncontested Family Court cases is expected soon.

Judges expressed concern about staff shortages and the poor state of repair of court buildings as well as worries about video hearings,” James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions.  “But it is clear that we will see an increase in video technology used in court over time with the intention of reducing cost and speeding justice.”

Reports on judges’ feedback have been published by The Guardian, Law Society Gazette, New Law Journal and Legal Futures.  The Courts and Tribunals Judiciary has published the Heads of Jurisdictions’ summaries of findings.

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