The world’s commercial courts have come together to discuss their experiences of delivering justice in the COVID-19 pandemic and to identify issues that need to be addressed.
The Standing International Forum of Commercial Courts (“SIFoCC”), with members in 33 countries across the world, has published a Memorandum on Delivering justice during the Covid-19 pandemic and the future use of technology. It concludes that the use of technology, which has had to increase at an unprecedented rate as a result of the pandemic, has proved to be very effective, except where a jury is required.
SIFoCC intends to use the lessons learnt as a result of the pandemic to ensure delivery of justice in a way which has the confidence of lawyers, litigants and the general public. With this in mind it has identified a number of issues to looks at further:
- Online hearings are expected to be used much more frequently, even after the current circumstances have eased. This is particularly the case for interlocutory hearings and the delivery of reserved judgments. The resultant issues that need to be considered and addressed include:
- Whether there are particular types of hearings that really should, under ideal circumstances take place in a courtroom
- Whether hybrid hearings should be allowed with some parties online and some in the courtroom
- The need for clear rules around procedure and etiquette – many court users have reported the difficulty of rudeness and ensuring that parties do not talk over each other
- The need for efficient electronic bundle technology with bundles that are easy to search and navigate with parties able to mark and annotate them privately
- How to achieve open justice, and whether there should be a distinction as to what is made available to the media and what is made available to the general public
- The need to ensure witnesses are not being aided or coached when giving evidence
- The increased use of technology presents an opportunity to improve access to ADR with the potential for courts to appoint and utilise their own panels to assist with settlement or mediation.
- There are a number of different technologies in use and some element of standardisation would be helpful to consider.
- Questions of access to the technology are a concern, particularly for litigants in person and those with disabilities.
The Memorandum represents a commendable display of unity which should be to the benefit of all parties using the relevant courts and engaged in cross border litigation. Any degree of consistency that can be achieved will be welcomed by litigators and parties alike now, and by addressing the issues together they can produce a high quality and consistent best practice for the future.