IT specialists have been asked to find a way to “mute” disruptive parties
The top judges in England and Wales are looking to implement measures to maintain order during remote hearings, especially when parties become disruptive, according to the Law Society Gazette.
With the imposition of remote working conditions following the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of lockdown on 23 March and the subsequent closure of courts and tribunals buildings, the judiciary has been reviewing the effectiveness of the arrangement.
Approximately 40% of hearings across all jurisdictions have resumed both in person and through phone or videoconferencing. In a statement by the Lord Burnett of Maldon, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton and president of the family division Sir Andrew McFarlane, it was determined that “the overwhelming majority of those have not been long hearings involving difficult evidence or high emotion.”
However, there have been cases in which the nature of remote hearings has led to unruly behaviour from parties.
“Over the course of the last few days we have been informed of a growing problem of participants not respecting the reality that although they were not physically present in a court room, they were taking part in court proceedings with all the constraints on behaviour that implies. There have been instances of judges being shouted at by litigants,” said Burnett, Etherton, and McFarlane.
In response, the judges have requested for “our IT people to explore whether there is a facility for people who misbehave to be muted.”
“It is important that the listing of cases, which is a matter for judges, takes account of the reality that long hours in front of a screen or on the phone concentrating hard are more tiring than sitting in a court room with all the participants present,” they said. “No judge should be expected to endure abuse on the phone or laptop. Experience varies but dealing with anything not intrinsically simple by phone appears to be less satisfactory than by video or, for example, Skype. But the way in which the participants conduct themselves is an important factor.”
The judiciary continues to push forward with improving facilities to better facilitate remote hearings. The judges’ statement indicated that the capacity of the video hearing facility developed for Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service would be “greatly increased” to enhance overall quality.