“Google maps for graves” to provide searchable online database
A project that has been termed “Google maps for graves” intends to map and photograph the Church of England’s 19,000…More
The ongoing coronavirus crisis has seen more than half of court and tribunal buildings in England and Wales close, in addition to the suspension of new jury trials.
Meanwhile, some hearings in the magistrates’ courts, the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have taken place remotely, with judges, lawyers, witnesses, interpreters and journalists all dialling in to participate or observe.
What the situation may now be proving is that legal processes can be done more conveniently, and at less expense, without all the elaborate trappings of tradition that seemed so integral.
Digital working in itself is not all that new in the sector. The Ministry of Justice has been making increased use of its online capacity, courts are attempting to end their reliance on paper and defendants in some cases already appear by video-link.
Overall, despite the occasional technical hitch, judges and lawyers seem happy with the newly introduced processes and the speed with which they have been implemented.
Last month, for example, a $530m case brought by the Republic of Kazakhstan against parties including the Bank of New York Mellon became the first High Court action heard with all involved attending remotely, via the Zoom video conferencing platform.
“What would have taken lengthy consultation over months or years, has been achieved in days,” Tom Lidstrom, a litigation partner at Linklaters, told The Times.
Lidstrom added that he would welcome (once normality returns) increased use of technology becoming the norm, especially in streamlining pre-trial proceedings. Even trials that relied on interpretation or expert testimony could take place remotely, he added.
The current lockdown has also seen the first trial conducted entirely by Skype; a three-day case in the Court of Protection. According to the judge involved, Mr Justice Mostyn, it went “almost without a hitch”; despite involving 17 “continuously active” participants located across the country, including 11 witnesses and two journalists.
This sort of success is likely to combine with cost savings and increased access to justice to make ongoing use of remote working “irresistible” predicts legal futurist and commentator Professor Richard Susskind. “Many senior judges will argue strongly for it, especially in lower value cases where it’s proportionate to have a streamlined, quicker, easier system,” he said. “If I have a dispute I can resolve in a way that’s less costly, more convenient and more intelligent, then that is the better service.”