Court users taking part in the first fully-video hearings, which are hearings where all participants appear virtually via video, found them to be convenient and easy to understand, a pilot study led by academics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has revealed.
The pilot, conducted by LSE’s Dr Meredith Rossner and Martha McCurdy for the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), is the first time that hearings with all parties attending remotely have been trialled in England and Wales. Hearings were conducted as if in a physical courtroom, but they took place over the internet, with each participant logging in from a location of their choice using their own equipment. For the purposes of the pilot, the judge was located in the court room.
The results reveal that the hearings were a success among appellants, who welcomed the chance not to have to travel to a court room. Among those taking part, one person living abroad reported that they had avoided the need to fly to the UK, with a new mother also welcoming the chance to stream from home. People reported that they found the hearings to be clear, easy to navigate and user-friendly.
Meredith Rossner, an associate professor of criminology in LSE’s Law Department and co-author of the report, said: “This is the first pilot conducted in England and Wales for Fully-Video Hearings, which are hearings where all parties are participating remotely via video technology. We found that, even though technical difficulties were experienced in most hearings, this did not appear to dampen users’ enthusiasm. Judges and other stakeholders were able to effectively adapt to suit the video environment and seemed satisfied with the results. However, the unreliability of technology is a key hurdle to overcome in order to make video hearings a robust and feasible option in the future.”
Lessons will now be learnt from the pilot scheme including making fully-video hearings available for more users by improving the technical product; ensuring technology is robust and reliable; and ensure the level of pre-hearing support is right at each stage.