The presidents of the Employment Tribunal recently issued new guidance highlighting a ‘road map’ for the listing and hearing of cases from June to December 2020. Unsurprisingly, contained within the guidance is a desire to return to a form of normality without compromising the health and safety of judges, staff and users of the tribunal system. It envisages that the majority of remote hearings will make use of technology which was – prior to the pandemic – unknown to the employment tribunals in the form of cloud video platforms (CVP).
CVP has been described as a secure method of connecting to the existing justice video network, which can be accessed by any internet enabled device with a camera and microphone. There is no need to download specialist software, nor pay a subscription to access the platform. While it is theoretically similar to other remote work platforms, practically it appears cleaner and the invite to the meeting is pre-arranged, without a time limit.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, magistrates and Crown Court judges, staff and practitioners have begun using CVP technology on a daily basis. From some accounts, the technology could be rolled out for use across criminal courts nationwide, including for jury trials.
From the perspective of the employment tribunals, the majority of the hearings currently taking place are via telephone in accordance with the first iteration of the Presidential guidance issued on 18 March. However, the latest guidance anticipates that a Practice Direction on remote hearings will be issued soon, which will deal with a range of matters, including the ways to conduct such hearings; the expectations of parties and their representatives and the ways in which public access to hearings will take place. While that guidance is awaited, helpful tips for professionals include:
- You might not be able to gauge a judge’s reaction as easily in a remote hearing. Written advocacy might go further than you think – if it is to be produced, make it concise and use only the best points.
- Judges may prefer to work with paper, electronic bundles, or have no preference. Be prepared to adapt accordingly and consider drafting a list of essential reading (with page numbers) to assist, either way.
- Tribunal judges and staff are likely to be working remotely and independently from each other. If that is the case, all will have a specific time when they are joining a hearing, when they are finishing and when the next hearing they are to attend is scheduled – you might do too. Don’t be afraid to ask how long the hearing is scheduled for and make sure you have enough time to say what you need to.
- Ensure you take the initiative to speak to all those attending before the hearing. Don’t forget to include parties who you would usually meet on the day of the ‘in person’ hearing, for example, interpreters or representatives for the other side – you might be surprised what can be agreed or what issues are raised.
- Parties remain at liberty to make an application for an in-person, rather than a remote, hearing. However, many cases lost their hearing dates as a result of the pandemic and can only be resolved in person – these types of cases are to be prioritised. Making such an application is, therefore, likely to mean that your case falls behind others in the queue.
Angelica Rokad is a practising barrister