Remote hearings: the HMCTS evaluation

I am a great fan of the Transparency Project and keep up to date with their news and blogs. This week I intended to create a blog on the subject of “Empathy in relation to Remote Hearings” – but I was struck by the information provided by the Transparency Project in their blog regarding HMCTS evaluation on Remote Hearings.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service published their own research into user experiences of remote hearings: The report analyses responses to surveys conducted between May and October 2020 with public users of the justice system and in mid-2021 with professionals such as lawyers, judges and court staff. 

I was struck by the number of issues that were reported as commonplace, including issues with technology where court staff reported parties joining a hearing where their camera or microphone were not set up correctly; technical and connection issues not being resolved in time for the hearing and wifi issues to name a few.

Furthermore a fifth of public users experienced problems with technology. Those that attended by video were more likely to experience technical issues than those that attended by audio (30% compared with 15%). The main issues for all user groups were inconsistent audio quality and people being disconnected. “Connection dropping out or freezing” was the most frequently reported major problem, as reported by 44% of judicial respondents, 35% of HMCTS staff and 16% of legal representatives.

There is a significant issue for many public users in finding a suitable location for remote hearings, especially if living in environments with shared facilities and few rooms.

The Transparency Project continue……..”This may be why 3% of public users were recorded as having attended from someone else’s home. In some cases judges recalled having to ask public users to move their camera so that the judge could see around the room to check that they were alone. There was evidence of some public users joining the hearing from inappropriate locations “such as parks, walking down a street, driving up a motorway, in a public phone box and on a plane”. In such cases it was necessary to adjourn the hearing. Public users joining from a car was another reported scenario “which may be due to their home situation not being suitable”. “

Participants need to deal with practical, environmental and technical issues as highlighted in this report in order to be in a position to take their place and take part. Lets not forget the emotional and psychological impact of remote hearings and the need for empathy in our response to vulnerable individuals taking part in this process.

Next time I will explore Empathy in context of Remote Hearings.