Published on 09/07/2020

I saw an interesting article in the Law Society Gazette, which I will summarise below, from the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon, on how he believes courts will function post COVID-19.

 

He made clear that the courts system will never again operate as it did before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Judges and practitioners had found the use of remote hearings just as successful and often more convenient in many types of case. This has been facilitated by a ‘quite remarkable’ transformation which has kept the court system in England and Wales open where others in the world have been closed.

In a virtual appearance before the House of Lords recently, Lord Burnett acknowledged problems with litigants in person accessing technology, but said that 80% of civil and family hearings have been able to proceed in some form since lockdown began. He also revealed the Cloud Video Platform – used sparingly so far in some criminal cases and certain tribunals – will be rolled out to all civil and family courts in the coming weeks.

“Over the last two months we have had to move forward otherwise the system would have collapsed… I sense from practitioners but also from judges there will be increased demand for [remote technology]. There will be no going back to where we were. We had to deal with this…. It seems to me that we have, by necessity, taken three steps forward and done so using poor technology. We will probably take a step back [once the pandemic ends].” Lord Burnett said the rapid changes in how courts operate had highlighted the under-investment in the system for years prior to the lockdown. “I wish to make it absolutely clear that what has happened in the last couple of months demonstrates how vital it is that the investment continues.”

On criminal justice, Lord Burnett acknowledged that if severe constraints on social interaction stay in place for “more than a handful of months”, then imaginative thinking would be needed to address a resulting backlog of cases. But asked specifically about juries not sitting, he made clear this would have to be a last resort saying, “I would see it only as an option in extremis…I would hope parliament would take a deep breath before authorising judge-only trials…”

Comment: The way we all work at ARAG has changed significantly recently, as it has for solicitors, barristers and the courts. We have been forced to work much more with remote technology on a daily basis and most have discovered that with a few tweaks and improvements, here and there, it can make our lives easier in many cases. As Lord Burnett said, “…there will be no going back”.

Disclaimer - all information in this article was correct at time of publishing.

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