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Remote hearings resource hub launches in wake of virus pandemic

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Richard Susskind-led platform comes as lawyers turn to tech to keep justice system functioning

A new online resource hub that aims to promote and develop the use of remote hearings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has officially gone live this week.

The ‘Remote Courts Worldwide’, a global initiative spearheaded by Professor Richard Susskind, looks to help judges, lawyers, court officials, litigants and court technologists share their experiences of developing remote alternatives to traditional court hearings in physical buildings.

Court closures across the country have prompted the profession to turn to technology in a bid to keep the wheels of justice turning, with many lawyers now conducting hearings remotely via telephone, Skype and Zoom.

Last week the Supreme Court held its inaugural virtual court case via a web-based video conferencing system (see below), while a High Court trial was streamed live on YouTube for the first time on Friday.

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In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court has been adjusting its working practices to ensure that the Court can continue to function, whilst taking appropriate steps to comply with the latest advice from Public Health England. •  Earlier this week, the Supreme Court held its first virtual court case via a web-based video conferencing system. The parties, their legal teams, counsel and each of the Justices were located in different places. Here are some photos from our first #VirtualCourt • Hats off to the IT and broadcasting staff for working around the clock to make this happen. Wherever possible, cases and judgment hand-downs will continue in this way until further notice. •  We are aiming to make as many cases and hand-downs as possible viewable live via our website at: https://www.supremecourt.uk/live/court-01.html. • We look forward to the day when we can resume normal court hearings and reopen our courtroom doors to the public. • In the meantime, take care all and stay healthy.

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In a joint statement, the organisers of Remote Courts Worldwide — the Society for Computers and Law, the UK LawTech Delivery Panel, and Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service — said:

“At remarkable speed, new methods and techniques are being developed. However, there is a danger that the wheel is being reinvented and there is unnecessary duplication of effort across the world. In response, Remote Courts Worldwide offers a systematic way of remote-court innovators and people who work in the justice system to exchange news about working systems, plans, ideas, policies, protocols, techniques, and safeguards.”

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Susskind, president of the Society for Computers and Law, added: “It’s time to come together, globally, to accelerate the introduction of remote hearings by judges. We have no choice. Physical courts are closing. There’s little point in lamenting any lack of past investment nor in predicting that the technology will fail. Let’s make it happen. We must seize the moment and come together to accelerate the development of new ways of delivering just outcomes for court users.”

The uptick in remote hearings has created some unique (and very unusual) situations. Take 2 Hare Court barrister Merry van Woodenberg for example, who earlier this month secured a victory in the Court of Appeal from the comfort of her own living room. “Surreal doesn’t cover it,” she tweeted.

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