Some Thoughts on Remote Hearings

Rosie Scott carried out a remote hearing in the Court of Protection yesterday. Here are her thoughts:

Yesterday I had my first remote hearing in the Court of Protection, with four parties (including a litigant in person) and the judge all using Skype for Business. We had two instances of a party cutting out mid-submissions but otherwise it appeared to go smoothly and all parties had (and felt as though they had had) a fair hearing.  Here are my first thoughts on things that I did or will do next time.

Thoughts on Remote Hearings

Before the hearing

  • If you have headphones, especially if they have a microphone, connect those to your computer.
    1. The voice quality is likely to be much higher if your microphone is so much closer to your mouth, the echo effect of the room will be reduced and any interruptions from outside will be less audible to others (although if your microphone hangs down by your cheek or neck, be careful not to wear a scarf or polo neck, as it will create horrible rustling noises!);
    2. Using headphones will mean that only you will hear if, for example, your computer audibly notifies you of an email, a reconnection to the VPN, low battery etc.
  • Whatever software you are using, particularly if it is new to you, follow the login details and access the software at least 15 minutes ahead of time: you may be asked to download software even if the platform is web-based and you might need some form of permission from IT to install it (e.g. Skype for Business, Zoom and BlueJeans).
  • Ensure that you have identified a method for quickly communicating with your sols, such as a secure form of Instant Messaging. We found sending emails insufficiently responsive and too many emails crossed mid-air.
  • If it is likely that you will need to discuss an order/next steps with the other parties after the hearing (common in COP cases), before the hearing considering setting up a separate remote video meeting/telecom invitation for relevant attendees to begin after the hearing ends. We asked the judge if we could remain on the Skype for Business line, but he accidentally omitted to end the recording of the hearing (which only he could do as host), so we had to adjourn to another platform.
  • Some platforms permit you to blur your background whilst leaving you in focus: consider using this as it prevents your background (and anyone else who may walk into it) from being a distraction. If the platform does not allow this (such as Skype for Business), check what is in your background and consider taking down anything inconsistent with the formality of a court room (informal family photographs, old tattered posters etc.).

During the hearing

  • If you have two separate screens, it can be very helpful to use one for your e-bundle (PDF or document management system) and your communication method with your solicitors, and the second for the software being used for the hearing (Skype etc.). Make sure, though, that the Skype/Zoom/BlueJeans window is on the same screen as your webcam, or as you look at the video feeds of the judge/parties whilst making submissions, you will appear to be looking away from them, which is most distracting.
  • Establish a method for alerting the judge and parties if a party is having connectivity problems; Skype for Business has a chat option which usually works even if you lose audio and video, ask the judge if that is an acceptable way to alert him/her that a party is having problems.
  • Mute your microphone and turn off your video whenever you are not talking (unless the judge says otherwise): this reduces pressure on the connection and saves everyone else from your noisy typing/heavy breathing etc. as you take notes!
  • Whenever you unmute your microphone/restart your video to contribute to the hearing again, check that you can be heard and seen before saying anything substantive.
  • It is more important than ever that you speak at a sensible pace, and even have short pauses in between points and sub-points. A common connectivity problem is for there to be a brief delay in the audio feed and then the voice comes through in a gabbling, sped-up rush.  If this happens to you and you have paused briefly before starting your next point, the judge can alert you that s/he needs you to repeat your last point before you commence your next.
  • Be aware that if two people are speaking at once, it is common to find that only one can be heard: be even more careful than usual not to interrupt or, if you are interrupted by an opponent, perhaps pause your submission and say something to indicate that you had not finished. If you continue making a useful point, it will probably get lost in the confusion.

After the hearing

  • Check that you have appropriate email addresses for all of the parties for circulating any orders or further documents before leaving the meeting.
  • Ensure you log out properly and can no longer be heard before you exhale loudly.