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‘Markedly inferior’: Bar councils warn against virtual justice

By Jemma Slingo >>

(4 May 2021)

Remote hearings deliver a ‘markedly inferior experience’ and degrade human interaction, professional bodies across the British Isles have said.

In a joint statement, the Bar Councils of England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Ireland, together with Scotland’s Faculty of Advocates, said that virtual hearings have ‘multiple and multi-faceted disadvantages’ compared with in-person proceedings.

‘Experience shows that judicial interaction is different and less satisfactory in remote hearings from that experienced in “real life” with the result that hearings can be less effective at isolating issues and allowing argument to be developed,’ the professional bodies said.

They also claimed that virtual hearings diminish the quality of evidence; present ‘very considerable challenges’ to advocacy; and have ‘markedly affected’ training and wellbeing.

‘The universal sentiment across the four bars is that remote hearings deliver a markedly inferior experience. The diverse and complex needs of our clients must be protected and their participation must be safeguarded. By its nature, a remote and automated system will only degrade the valuable human interaction that should be at the heart of meaningful and open access to justice.’

The professional bodies said they are in favour of remote hearings becoming the default position for short or uncontroversial procedural business.

‘However, for any hearing that is potentially dispositive of all or part of a case, the default position should be “in-person” hearings. Remote hearings should be available as an option in such cases where all parties (including the court) agree that proceeding in that way would be appropriate.’

Earlier this year, the House of Lords constitution committee said that a ‘paucity of data collection’ is making it difficult to assess the impact of remote hearings on court users, including whether technology is affecting case outcomes.

‘The impact of virtual hearings across the justice system remains fundamentally unclear in a number of respects, as insufficient data is being collected and analysed by HM Courts & Tribunals Service,’ it said.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)