back to article Britain's courts lurch towards Skype and conference calls for trials as COVID-19 distancing kicks in

Britain's courts have declared they will start holding trials and hearings through video calling – although they appear rather ill-equipped for doing so. As the UK struggles to get to grips with government advice to go home, stay home and only leave those four walls for truly essential journeys, Her Majesty's Courts and …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    by Television ?

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: Trial

      Trial by television - I think OJ Simpson pioneered that.

  2. Warm Braw Silver badge

    Is your lawsuit really necessary?

    I understand that, in the civil courts, judges are hastily being trained in the use of Microsoft Teams and there is a lot of pressure to use e-mail and phone calls for case management - and even for "hearings" if possible.

    There remains a problem with block lists where a bunch of cases are scheduled to run consecutively on the same day, each one starting as the previous one finishes. The lack of precise scheduling means large numbers of people hanging around waiting for their case to be called.

    Courts are also encouraging potential litigants to reflect on whether the court is the best place to resolve their dispute, especially given the economic turmoil that may render any outcome moot.

  3. MatthewSt

    Skype for Business?

    Sounds about right really. What better time to install a new system than when it's being deprecated!

    Could use Teams Live events for the public side of things... Up to 10,000 public and anonymous viewers

  4. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Ok boomer, here's the future!

    During a call with reporters on Friday, he said he plans to be more visible in the coming weeks.

    “They tell me there’s ways we can do teleconferencing via us all being in different locations,” he said.

    Ah, politics. I'm starting to feel sorry for the US in the upcoming election cycle. In other news, this raises interesting judicial questions, like the right to a fair and ideally prompt trial. Especially given the news that the trial of the accused in the death of a police officer has been suspended in Reading due to jurors being sick.

    I guess block lists might hasten their demise, so for example one common one being the good'ol UK TV licence lists. For those, AFAIK a lot of people don't bother attending, but could hasten reforms especially as UK's looking to decriminalise or reform the licence fee anyway.

  5. alain williams Silver badge

    I have been playing with Jitsi - free, open source, trusted -- Skype goes via Microsoft servers. No special software needed - just a web browser; most devices have camera & microphone these days.

    HMCS should set up something like this.

    1. Tromos


      "free, open source, trusted"

      It's just totally blown the 'trusted' element. Doesn't like my browser, wants me to use Chrome. I'd rather stick with Skype and go through Microsoft servers.

      1. Francis Irving


        It works for me on Firefox 74 on Ubuntu.

        What browser are you using?

        1. Tromos


          I'm using Edge on this machine. I know MS products are generally despised around these parts, but I'm not prepared to clutter up this computer with third-party browsers and addons when the existing one (assisted by just a hosts file) has been working just fine. I especially distrust the recommendation to switch to Chrome.

          1. Glen 1


            Suggestion: Chromium portable?

            Delete when done.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            Edge will soon be Chrome based, the Beta is already out. Should work fine then.

    2. Carl W


      8x8 acquired Jitsi about 18 months ago

      1. MarkTriumphant


        Is that good, or bad?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Improved access to justice

    I think it's generally appreciated that one of the reasons top QCs are so expensive is their court performance - they know how to put on a show and it is often tailored to the judge in question.

    Video and phone conferencing is going to have a dramatic effect in levelling the playing field and allow more junior lawyers to show what they can do with straight argument based on the evidence.

    In the long term it could be beneficial given the way that deep pockets can currently improve outcomes - which is why people will spend the money. Like the famous case in which the Guardian had to race to beat the plaintiff to Carter-Ruck over alleged libel.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Improved access to justice

      Why on earth would the performance not be transferred to the conference call, I'm sure the QCs voice can be made to sound more sincere & serious, the face more trustworthy, the lighting more flattering.

      Just like any TV production in fact. (not like last years BBC mumbleathons)

      1. Francis Irving

        Re: Improved access to justice

        I'd expect younger lawyers would be more likely to be able to organise getting the kind of equipment YouTube stars always chat about having?

        Curious how useful video is without eye contact, harder to interpret body language without a lot of practice. I guess we'll have the practice! But wonder if just audio - and indeed document sharing - would be fine or even better for cases in reality?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Improved access to justice

          My original (and downvoted) post was a comment based on remarks by the family QC, who is already using telephone and video conferencing for trials. But what do they know?

  7. Wellyboot Silver badge

    All it takes

    For the legal system to drag itself out of the 18thC is a pandemic with the worst affected being elderly.

    To be serious for a moment though, in the long term everyone being in the same courtroom needs to remain the default position, the current exceptions have been instituted carefully and normally someone has their liberty is at risk.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All it takes

      Exactly, how can we be sure a witness isn't being coached if they're in another place on a video link? How can we be sure they're not being intimidated?

      Get some awkward questions, oops the video link is broken while I re-group and think of a good reply...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was at a magistrates court this morning and I overheard a conversation where a man was discussing who would cover this area and who would cover outer areas as from tomorrow they will only be dealing with custody cases. (cases where they are already in prison or at police station and brought to the court)

  9. whitepines

    Where exactly is it written that if you are arrested you have to give extremely private information to a foreign corporation (Microsoft) at trial?

  10. big_D Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Ian Murray

    At least someone is talking sense... At a time when people shouldn't be gathering together, leaving the public gallery open seems silly.

    A dedicated feed for the press makes much more sense.

  11. TeeCee Gold badge

    All well and good, but... know what's going to happen.

    Somewhere around 18 months down the line, some smart-arsed agitprop lawyer is going to convince some senile judge out to make one last impact on common law before he goes completely gaga that some mouldering statute from 1522 can be interpreted to allow his client's appeal on a technicality.

    Presto. Every "electronic" conviction invalid.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All well and good, but...

      There's this thing called the "Appeal Court". And being quite well educated they understand the meaning of "de minimis non curat lex."

  12. beerandbiscuits

    But as ever, the information coming from the courts is too little and very late. The HMCTS web site still says (at 16.27 on 24.03.20) "As long as you, or the people who have to come with you, do not have confirmed or possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection or do not need to self-isolate in line with NHS advice, you should continue to attend courts and tribunals as planned, unless informed otherwise".

    It's all very well for the senior judiciary to change their minds after everyone has been sent home, but some of us are struggling on rural bandwidth and unable to get into our office emails let alone get hold of documents from the doc management system. It's definitely not going to cope with a 2 hour skype call.

    As important as civil justice is, I cannot see why they cannot take the sensible approach at the moment of closing the civil courts to all except the most urgent cases, which can be dealt with on a case by case basis i.e. if you have something that really cannot wait, you contact the court to get it heard (much as has been done during High Court vacations for donkeys years).

  13. Franci46

    Yes, during COVID 19, each and every company and business is conducting meetings online via video conferences using tools like R-HUB HD video conferencing servers, Webex, Gomeetnow, Polycom, etc.

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