Remote Hearings the Future?
At the second attempt a remote approval hearing in the High Court worked on Maundy Thursday. The court approved the settlement of a serious brain injury claim as recommended by Grahame Aldous QC at 9GS. The first attempt a week earlier had been abandoned amidst organisational and technological problems that the court could not overcome.
Court approval is required under CPR Pt 21 to ensure that the interests of protected parties are properly served, but the hearing can offer so much more. Compare this limited and painful process with an approval hearing for another settlement recommended by Grahame Aldous QC and Jeremy Ford just before the lockdown began. Covid 19 was already an issue and the father and litigation friend agonised about whether to attend the urgent hearing. In the end he did attend, with Jeremy Ford who had managed to get the papers for the hearing in order over a weekend. After the hearing the father wrote to say thank you, and that the experience had helped him come to terms with the end of 7 years of litigation.
No doubt our current experiments with remote hearing will accelerate the use of technology for court hearings. Real change will require proper investment in the court service, as has regularly been recommended in the past by people who understand the court service. It is hard to see at present where that investment will come from while we pay off the cost of the lockdown. No doubt some in the MOJ are wondering whether they can sell off the Royal Courts of Justice to become a hotel. When these decisions are made, however, we all need to remember that courts are ultimately not about technology. They are not even about the millions of pounds in the settlements being approved by the courts in hearing like this, or the thousands of pounds being paid for this service in court fees. The courts are about people and their access to justice.