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Use of Skype at court

Use of Skype at court

Family lawyers and courts are blazing a bit of a trail with use of Skype technology for hearing low cost evidence from abroad.

In the recently reported case of Re ML (Use of Skype Technology) [2013] EWHC 2091 (Fam) Mr Justice Peter Jackson reports on two recent uses of Skype for evidence in the Family Division of the High Court.

skype-mIn one case a child’s Guardian and the CAFCASS officer were able to witness foreign parents living in Nepal giving formal consent to an adoption to reassure all concerned that consent was indeed freely given and without financial inducement.

In the other case, the facts of which are separately reported as Re S (A Child) [2013] EWHC 1295 (Fam), permission for use of Skype to give evidence directly in court from Colombia was initially refused, with the judge giving these reasons in ML:

The technology can be very effective for informal use, but does not lend itself to the court environment. There are problems in everyone seeing and hearing the picture and in the evidence being recorded. There are also issues about security. I would not be willing to use this method if there was any alternative.

However, the solicitors, Goodman Ray, found a company called eye network who were able to provide a ‘bridge’ between the witness using Skype and the ISDN system in place at court.

Jackson J was clearly impressed:

12. …This technology mediates between the systems and provides some protection against hacking. The Skype-user is provided with a download allowing them to connect to the court’s system. In addition to the program, the witness requires a PC, an internet connection, a webcam, a microphone and a mobile or landline number with which to contact the company for instructions via a multilingual team.

13. The quality of the link was adequate. The witness gave evidence for an hour at a cost of about £150. The cost of a full ISDN link would have been in the region of £1200. There is clearly the possibility of using this system in hearings involving witnesses in remote locations and in reducing the high international costs associated with ISDN.

The immigration tribunal opened the door to this kind of evidence in the case of Nare (evidence by electronic means) Zimbabwe [2011] UKUT 00443 (IAC), reported on Free Movement back in 2011 (‘Evidence by electronic means‘).

There has been very little if any take up since then, at least of which I am aware. This is particularly puzzling given that one would have thought witness evidence from ‘remote locations’ was likely to be rather useful in immigration hearings. Imagine being able to call as a witness the foreign carer or perhaps even the child herself in a sole responsibility refusal case, for example. Or, closer to home, using special measures for hearing from a vulnerable witness.

It is high time we immigration lawyers were a bit more imaginative about evidence and technology. If you have suggestions on other typical use case scenarios then do leave a comment.

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website.

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