Skype hearings require ‘more careful thought’ — regardless of benefit to barristers

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‘Communicating with someone on a screen just isn’t the same’, says Bar Council bigwig Athena Markides

A junior barrister has urged caution over the use of video hearings during important court proceedings, arguing that communicating with someone on a screen is “less impactful” and can even lead to discriminatory bias.

In a speech at the Bar and Young Bar Conference 2019 on Saturday, Athena Markides warned that some aspects of the government’s ambitious court modernisation programme, particularly video hearings, require “more careful thought”.

Markides, chair of the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee, noted that while video hearings have already been introduced, the government’s aim is to roll these out more widely — including in remand hearings, plea and trial preparation hearings and civil interlocutory hearings.

“Video hearings may instinctively sound appealing,” admitted the Crown Office Chambers barrister. “We will no longer have to wake up at 5am and trek to some far flung court. Instead we can pop out of bed at 9:25am, pull a shirt and jacket on over our pyjamas and present our respectable upper half to the tiny camera on our laptop with the lights on a flattering setting.”

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But regardless of the potential perks, Markides urges caution. “The thing is though, that communicating with someone on a screen just isn’t the same as doing it in person,” she told the audience. “We all know it’s true, even if we can’t immediately say why. We may have a vague sense that submissions by Skype are less impactful. That it’s harder to focus on a screen for long periods of time. That people on a screen are more like TV characters — less real than those sitting next to us.”

Markides went on to cite preliminary research suggesting that evidence received on screens leads to different outcomes to evidence received in person. Specifically, she continued, “people who received witness evidence on screens were more likely to resort to discriminatory bias when making decisions based on that evidence.”

She continued:

“The research is still in its early stages, but this is obviously cause for concern. If BAME advocates, suspects and witnesses are at a real and immediate disadvantage when using video hearings, then this should be a deal-breaker. The cost-benefit analysis should not allow this outcome.”

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BAME people at a disadvantage? There are far fewer at the Bar than in other professions. Some London chambers only have 1 or 2 in the whole set.

Come on, you want a larger fee for turning up in court than the possibility of earning less for a Skype hearing.

It’s fine to want money in life. Appeals to anything else to skirt around that are just embarrassing.



In fact 16% of barristers are BAME, which is higher than in the general population of 13%.

I agree though, the real problem with it is not discrimination. It is that the Court allows you a 15 minute slot to talk to the client before the hearing. It takes 10 minutes to bring them from the wing so you are usually left with 5 minutes before the hearing. As everyone is in a 15 minute slot there is no capacity for the Judge to put the case back in the list to see the client downstairs (as he isn’t there) so PVL cases are fequently adjourned.

The fee for a PVL is the same as a hearing with the client being produced in person. As they get adjourned and involve multiple hearings when the case could have been dealt with one hearing if the client had been produced the total fee paid for PVL hearings is higher.



Though the 16% figure is misleading, look given the disparity between the members of the profession who are within “B” and those within “AME”.



Whilst that may be true across the whole profession, it isn’t true in crime, which is what we are talking about here.



That figure also doesn’t account for the fact that the majority of BAME pupils are doing criminal work on near BSB minimum awards.

There are chancery and public law sets in London with only 1 or 2 BAME members in the whole set.



It’s much better for the environment if counsel don’t travel
I do 36000 miles a year for work, nearly all of which could be done via video link



If you are doing 100 miles a day you must have really pissed off your clerks!



In theroy yes. But in practice it just doesn’t work as well. The CJS has been digital for three years now, so all papers are served electronically. The trouble is this often means they are uploaded the day before the hearing. Not a problem for Counsel and saves a trip into Chambers to pick them up. But it means the Defendant doesn’t even know what he’s charged with until the morning of the hearing.

If everyone is there it no big deal. Its a case: of Your Honour, papers were only served last night. Could your honour drop the case back in your list and deal with the next cases whilst I go down to the cells for half an hour and we can make progress today.

By PVL it is a case of of Your Honour, papers were only served last night. SERCO brought the Defendant to the Conference Room 5 minutes ago. I can’t show him any of the papers by holding my laptop to the screen as it is too distorted and anyway I can’t do it in the 3 minutes I had before I had to leave the PVL room before the PVL slot ended. SERCO need three weeks written notice to book a prison vist. Could I ask your honour therefore to either adjourn for the three weeks SERCO require. Or relist the case tomorrow with the Defendant to be produced so I can show him the papers on my laptop in the cells and take instructions.

PVL has been great for SERCO’s profits. They still get paid the same fee by the govenment and don’t have to actually bring anyone to court. Not so good for the taxpayer or the administation of justice.



As a top rate taxpayer, I strongly support anything that cuts costs. Even if there is marginal impact on the effectiveness of submissions, which I doubt, I don’t care if it saves cash.



Adjourning cases does not save cash. It costs cash as two sitting days are used rather than one and everyone attend. There is not a marginal impact on submissions with no instructions. If the plea is not guilty, the case is listed for trial with every witness required to attend, since as the Defendant has not seen any of their statements he cannot agree any of them. If the plea is guilty the Judge can’t sentence the Defendant in the 3 minutes left in the PVL slot.

It was a system designed by a moron. List every case with a 15 minute hearing window, Case A at 10.00, Case B at 10.15, Case C at 10.30 and so on throughout at 10 to 4 list. What could possibily go wrong? Well apart from anything else, the wing is 10 minutes walk away from the video room. Even if the prision are a couple of minutes late, by the time it gets to case number 4, the Judge only has a couple of minutes left before SERCO take the Defendant away and bring the next one it. As the Judge has lost all power to manage his own list and can’t put anything back in the list, the entire list quickly collapses like a line of dominos into every case being adjourned due to lack of court time on the video link.

Pretty clear the poster above has never been near a Court, either civil or criminal. Judges quite sensibley will not list a trial with every witness required to attend as that would be a massive waste of witness time, court time and money. They will adjourn the case so that the trial will be effective and witnesses who can be agreed are agreed, with the result that two hearings are needed for an effective PTPH rather than one.


Major interview f*** up

I had a video interview with Eversheds for a TC. There were several questions and I had a minute to answer each. I was answering them quite well. My top half was in a suit, and my bottom half butt naked. It was during my last question that I realised I had f***** the interview when I could see my fat butt cheeks squished against the chair in the mirror behind me and to my left. I didn’t get to the assessment centre stage.


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