My experience with virtual hearings during the COVID-19 Pandemic
by Hilary Lennox, barrister called to the Bar in Ireland in 2008, Northern Ireland in 2013 and England & Wales in 2013. She has worked in a law firm in New York and the Innocence Project in Wisconsin. Hilary specialises in international human rights and all areas of family law including international child abduction, child relocation and international jurisdictional issues.
Hilary practices from 5SAH chambers.
My virtual experience has involved a High Court hearing using Skype for business. This was an emergency hearing which worked very well. There were 5 different parties/screens used. All the parties made the necessary submissions. The hearing was recorded by the Judge. The Judges clerk was with the Judge in the High Court. He said all rise at the end of the hearing and all the parties amusingly stood up on screen.
My second hearing was a Private Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment. This was originally listed on the Wednesday in court. The solicitors and counsel came together and arranged a private FDR for that Friday. This lasted all day and was very successful in terms of connection. All parties were using their laptops and all parties were seen on screen. The software we used was Life size which produced a virtual court room.
My client and solicitor were based in the West Coast of Ireland. This was a very successful outcome as Ireland was on lockdown before the UK with no prospect of my client attending court in London. The private FDR Judge recorded it from their end. This case didn’t settle however the case may now move to final hearing without any long delay due to COVID 19.
There was just one hiccup where my French bulldog Willow entered the screen and the Judge stopped to say “oh we have an intruder”
I attended for an Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH) by way of telephone conference. The parties started communicating by email and telephone in the morning. The Judges clerk checked in by email to see how discussions were coming along. The Judges clerk commenced the IRH hearing when we were all ready with 5 parties in total. The software we used was BT conferencing which worked very well.
In terms of legal aid this was a legal aid matter so the necessary terms were included in the order setting out that this was a remote hearing. The parties agreed their times and bolt ons without the necessity of the Judges signature on any FAS forms.
For my cases it has been a positive experience with a real sense of collegiality within the legal profession. This no doubt gives us some insight of what perhaps lies ahead for family hearings.