Judge highlights open justice benefits of telephone hearings

Fordham: Skype hearing might be off-putting to public

There is “a lot to be said” for telephone, rather than video, hearings from the perspective of open justice and parties should bear this in mind when deciding how to proceed, a High Court judge has said.

Mr Justice Fordham was ruling on an application for bail in extradition proceedings, which all agreed should be conducted via Skype for Business.

The judge said that, had anyone wishing to observe the hearing not had access to Skype, he would have considered a simultaneous BT conference call.

“It is no criticism of anyone in this case, but I do want to just say something about the choice of mode between Skype on the one hand and BT conference call on the other.”

Fordham J continued: “In a case where the lawyers are satisfied that a BT conference call, with audio only, would be sufficient for the purposes of the hearing in question, and would involve no detriment or prejudice from their perspective or that of their clients, there is a lot to be said – as it seems to me – for using a BT conference call in those circumstances.”

He suggested that a cause list listing which referred to a Skype (or remote video conference) hearing, rather than a telephone hearing, “may be off-putting to a member of the public who would wish to observe a hearing”.

That person may have a telephone, and be able to send an email, but they may not have – or feel they could access – the video conferencing platform being used by the court and the parties, he said.

“It is also possible that such a person would not think to make email contact with the court and ask whether alternative (telephone) arrangements can be made to accommodate them.

“Choosing a BT conference call and publishing on the cause list that it is a ‘telephone’ hearing which anyone can ask for permission to observe, as it seems to me, protects to the maximum the position of members of the public, or for that matter the press, who may wish to observe a hearing.”

Thornton J said it was “possible” that the position of the public was “not always forefront in the minds of those who are preparing for a hearing on behalf of the parties. These observations are intended to assist their thinking in future”.

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