The Civil Justice Council has produced a comprehensive report, based on over 1,000 court user responses, looking at user experience of the civil courts during the COVID-19 pandemic and making recommendations for improvement.
According to the CJC Rapid Review Final Report, broadly speaking, the lawyers who responded were satisfied with their experience of remote hearings. In particular large commercial law firms were enthusiastic about them, wanting to expand their use in commercial litigation. They cited the benefits that this would bring in reducing carbon emissions and increasing the attractiveness of the civil justice system in England and Wales as a forum for the conduct of commercial disputes.
Set against this most users felt that, overall, remote hearings were not as effective as hearings in person particularly when it came to facilitating participation. There was particular concern about the impact on litigants in person and vulnerable people, although these users were under-represented in the responses and the report recommends obtaining better data in this area. There was more enthusiasm for the use of remote hearings in preliminary matters, interlocutory hearings, trials without evidence (particularly where both sides were represented) and most costs disputes, than there was for enforcement hearings, appeals and trials.
Most hearings have taken place by telephone with only 27% being fully video hearings. Almost half of all hearings experienced technical difficulties of some sort, and issues were noted regarding foreign language interpretation, for example the current limitations on having effective simultaneous interpretation using video-conferencing platforms. The report recommends improving the equipment provided to judges, the functionality of video platforms to enable better document sharing, the systems and support for preparing and filing e-bundles, and access to listing and case information.
A key concern of the report was about how the civil justice system would cope with the backlog when the current stay in possession proceedings is lifted, and a working group has already been set up to address these concerns.