The UK’s civil courts are showing amazing resilience to the COVID-19 outbreak. Courts and judges across the UK are implementing a number of adjustments to ensure cases and hearings are able to continue, and any backlogs or delays are kept to a minimum.
However, as mentioned in the judiciary’s recent protocol on remote hearings, one aspect that will not be changing is that the principles of open justice remain paramount. As far as possible remote hearings are to be public, for example by allowing representatives of the media and other members of the public to log in to the remote hearing upon request to the Court listing office.
Technological innovation is allowing the justice system to continue to function in these unprecedented times, with new measures including:
Remote hearings, for example, telephone and video hearings enabled by technological solutions such as Skype for Business, Zoom and WebEx.
Swapping to electronic documentation that can be securely accessed by the judge and lawyers involved in a particular matter.
Real-time transcripts produced and circulated as the hearings take place – allowing for all parties to follow the proceedings in detail.
Judgments being handed down remotely – the parties’ representatives receive them by email and they will be released for publication on Bailii.
The legal teams are also using technology platforms to ensure that they can communicate with each other, and with clients, during hearings, to try to replicate strategic discussions and decision making that normally takes place in person in the court room.
This new, temporary way of functioning for the judiciary seems to be working well for the most part. Even high-value disputes in the Commercial Court such as that between the National Bank of Kazakhstan and the Bank of New York Mellon, has successfully proceeded remotely using Zoom, with the hearing livestreamed on YouTube.
Whilst the majority of cases are expected to continue using the above adjustments, some of the more complex cases may prove too challenging to be dealt with remotely. For example, the Conversant v Huawei trial concerning FRAND licensing has been adjourned from this Spring until later in the year. The Patents Court decided that there were too many complicating factors for this 4-week trial to be suitable for a remote hearing, not least given the large number of witnesses from the US and China who were due to testify. However, all indications from the Patents Court judges suggest that adjournment is a last resort and they remain keen to press on with standard patent trials.