To make sure we reduce inconvenience and cost to our users and provide greater flexibility and access to our services, we must deal with cases in the most efficient and proportionate way. One of the ways in which we are doing this is the expansion of video and telephony links to provide remote access either into a physical court room or into the new design of a ‘virtual court room’.
The use of video links already allows victims and vulnerable people to take part in criminal proceedings without having to meet the defendant face-to-face. Telephone conference technology is also already used (to a limited degree) to progress and manage cases in most jurisdictions and for a range of cases. To achieve effective fully virtual hearings, where all parties including the judge, are remote from the court room, we must look at the interactions that currently take place immediately before and after the hearing to make sure we replicate this important activity and, where possible, enhance it. By designing this new service around those who will use it, including those who are seeking justice as well as our justice partners, the judiciary and our staff, we give ourselves the best chance of identifying the right technology required and the right capability and processes to run it…
We are working with partners from Microsoft to build a prototype for a fully virtual hearing, which we will be testing in October 2017 for case management hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber with judges, HMCTS staff, the legal profession and Home Office Presenting Officers.
Testing virtual hearings in the tribunal where it continues to be impossible to submit a skeleton argument by email is… ambitious.