Video hearings can be a suitable alternative to physical court hearings

Users reported finding the video hearings platform convenient, robust and easy to use.
- Dr Meredith Rossner
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Court Room inside St George's Hall, Liverpool CC0 pxhere

Video hearings are convenient, robust and easy to use, new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) for Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service has found.

The LSE study, conducted by Dr Meredith Rossner and Martha McCurdy, expands on a pilot conducted by the pair in 2018, which was the first time that hearings with all parties attending remotely have been trialled in England and Wales.

Video hearings are conducted as if in a physical courtroom, but they take place over the internet, with each participant logging in from a location of their choice using their own equipment. The researchers studied hearings in civil, family and tax jurisdictions, which took place between March 2019 and March 2020.

The experience of participants suggests that, at least for the types of hearings tested, video hearings can provide an appropriate alternative to physical hearings.

Although some judges expressed concerns about the formality of the proceedings and the ability of the video platform to communicate authority, hearing participants reported that the tone and level of formality was appropriate.

Dr Meredith Rossner, who led the research, said: “This study demonstrates the potential capacity to be used across a range of justice hearings. Users reported finding the video hearings platform convenient, robust and easy to use.  While some participants experienced technical difficulties, on the whole, users responded positively to both the high level of support they received as a part of the service and the judicial management of the hearing.”

Co-researcher Martha McCurdy, a PhD candidate in LSE’s Department of Sociology, said: “The experience of participants in this pilot suggests that, at least for these types of hearings, the video hearings service and platform can provide an appropriate alternative to physical hearings. Although this trial was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic, our findings are more relevant than ever given the need to adjust the court system to new safety measures.”

The report makes a number of practical recommendations to improve the experience for users, including providing guidance on optimal audio and image quality, on judicial management of introductions and turn-taking, and improved access through expanded use for tablets and mobile phones.  

Dr Rossner stresses: “While our research indicates positive findings for these types of hearing in the civil, family, and tax jurisdictions, they cannot be used to generalise to more complex hearings, such as criminal trials. They also cannot take the place of an evaluation of the Justice response to COVID-19.”

Read the full report here.