COVID-19 Creates the First Ever Virtual Commercial Court Trial
Because of the detrimental effects of the coronavirus pandemic on all aspects of daily life, individuals and the UK justice system are suffering. This through major delays in court proceedings and the face-to-face delivery of legal advice due to travel restrictions and social distancing measures. On 19th March 2020, it was ruled that the trial of National Bank of Kazakhstan & Another v The Bank of New York Mellon & Ors was to proceed virtually via video conferencing technology, despite the impact of COVID-19.
- Ensuring clear lines of communication
- Identifying which video conferencing platform to use. This had to comprise of i) good infrastructure, ii) technical support via third party or software, iii) provision of worldwide servers for international participants and v) provision for public access whilst not interrupting the proceedings
- Ensuring efficient use and access of documentation such as trial bundles
- Ensuring efficient communication of witness evidence. Questions arose such as how witnesses could take the oath, especially if of different religions, and how to proceed without a court clerk
Strategies and Lessons Learned:
- The trial processes in this instance were meticulously planned. It is essential that virtual trials are planned thoroughly in advance. Directions must be prepared beforehand, hard copy and soft copy trial bundles should be provided and shared virtually through a well-tested software
- The problems incurred were last minute changes to the live streaming, witnesses and interpreters joining too early, poor Wi-Fi signal which required witnesses to move locations and the microphones of some participants silencing other participants. It is crucial that time zone differences of the participants are considered, virtual trial test runs are carried out and the software has different video rooms where individual access can be restricted at certain times
- The public justice requirement was more easily satisfied because there were no longer constraints of limited space for the public due to the size of the court room.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 allows livestreaming of court trials to comply with public access requirements. Although the decision to conduct trials virtually is based on a case-by-case basis, it is the view of the courts that adjournments are preventable.
“…it is incumbent on the parties to seek to arrange a remote hearing…” (Mr Justice Teare).
It is therefore likely that the future of virtual court proceedings will become a phenomenon, if parties are seen to cooperate with participating and arranging virtual court trials.
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