The new video platform enabling more remote cases to be heard in the criminal courts will rolled out to the civil courts over the coming months, the Ministry of Justice confirmed yesterday.
HM Courts and Tribunals’ (HMCTS) recovery plan to get the whole justice system moving again after lockdown also includes exploring options for extended operating hours and using other buildings as courts (so-called Nightingale courts) to increase capacity.
Plans to scrap trial by jury temporarily seem to have been put on the backburner.
The Cloud Video Platform (CVP) – which has now been implemented in 60 Crown Courts and 93 magistrates’ courts – should be in all criminal courtrooms by the end of this month and then extended to the civil and family courts over the coming months, HMCTS said.
On civil, HMCTS said receipts have “dropped sharply”, as many of those who make bulk claims (often utility companies chasing unpaid bills) have suspended their activities; “disposals also dropped as we reduced in-person hearings, though thousands of audio and video hearings have taken place”.
However, the Business and Property Court has “maintained administrative performance throughout” and has no backlogs outside standard turnaround times – as the recently published minutes of the Commercial Court users group also showed.
The HMCTS plan said that, as well as the CVP, the focus in the civil courts was on increasing listing for cases across county courts, transferring the costs assessment of many legal aid cases from the courts to the Legal Aid Agency – a move many practitioners are opposing – and restarting possession cases in August.
The CVP – which has been used in 3,600 Crown Court hearings and more than 7,000 overnight remand cases heard by magistrates – can be accessed by any device that has a camera and a microphone.
HMCTS said: “Anyone can join easily, and securely, through a web browser, and sessions can be locked to make sure only appropriate parties join. Training rooms can also be set up so that sessions may be rehearsed before they go live.”
For tribunals, the recovery plan said the service would accelerate planned reforms in the employment tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal, as well as using “flexibilities” introduced through temporary rules and emergency practice directions by the Senior President, such as cross-assigning judges across the First-tier Tribunal, and allowing for more appeals to be heard on the papers.
It will also pilot the HMCTS video hearings service in the property and tax chambers of the First-tier Tribunal.
Courts minister Chris Philp MP said: “We have worked closely with the judiciary to continue thousands of hearings during the pandemic. This new system will bolster our efforts to prioritise urgent cases and increase our capacity to hear them remotely – ensuring justice is delivered effectively and safely.”