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Civil and family courts to get video platform for remote hearings

Video platform that has been used in magistrates’ and crown courts during the coronavirus pandemic will be extended to civil and family courts

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is continuing to roll out its cloud video platform for remote hearings, with civil and family courts next on the list.

The platform has been used to conduct remote criminal hearings during the coronavirus pandemic, in move that aimed to give judges and magistrates “more options for avoiding adjournments and keeping business moving through the courts to help reduce delays in the administration of justice and alleviate the impact on families, victims, witnesses and defendants”, said HMCTS.

The platform is in use in 60 crown courts and 93 magistrates’ courts, and can be accessed by any device with a camera and a microphone. Users then join through a secure web browser, and sessions can be locked to ensure that only those who are allowed to join the session can do so.

The government is now extending the platform to include civil and family courts, and over the next few months, it will eventually cover all courts in England and Wales.

Courts minister Chris Philip said the government has “worked closely with the judiciary to continue thousands of hearings during the pandemic”.

He added: “This new system will bolster our efforts to prioritise urgent cases and increase our capacity to hear them remotely – ensuring justice is delivered effectively and safely.”

The use of technology for remote hearings has increased by 90% during the pandemic. In April, video technology accounted for just over one-third of the remote technology used, while audio technology accounted for just under two-thirds.

Because of the pandemic, emergency legislation was passed, under the Coronavirus Act 2020, to allow the use of video technology in criminal hearings. Defendants are not able to take part in hearings from their own home, and sentencing does not take place unless the defendant is either in custody or physically present in the courtroom.

The courts system is amidst a huge digital overhaul. A £1bn programme to overhaul the courts through the use of technology aims to introduce online services, digital case files and to use video technology in court hearings through a common platform, allowing information to be shared between HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.

Read more about IT in the justice system

  • A Commons Select Committee report has voiced a number of concerns about the ongoing transformation efforts led by the Ministry of Justice and called for actions such as maintenance of non-digital services.
  • Significant IT issues at HM Courts and Tribunal Service have caused chaos across the UK’s courts as users have been unable to connect to the network and use IT systems that require access to it. 
  • The Courts and Tribunals Judiciary will increase the use of technology in court proceedings as emergency legislation is being drafted to expand powers to allow criminal courts to hold remote hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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