An online conference on The Future of Remote Hearings post-Covid was hosted by Aberystwyth University on Thursday, July 21st. Organised by Dr Catrin Fflûr Huws, a senior lecturer in law at the Department of Law and Criminology, the conference explored different themes relating to remote hearings, and their impact on the legal profession and the public. Key themes included access to justice and different conceptions of what this means, with some speakers commenting that the impact of remote hearings was detrimental to access to justice, while others arguing that there were contexts in which access to justice might be improved by the use of remote hearings.
The first speaker at the conference was HHJ Milwyn Jarman QC, the Senior Circuit Judge for Wales and his paper ‘Back to the Future? Are remote hearings here to stay?’ where he discussed the context in which remote hearings may be used on a continued basis, and where they would be unsuitable.
Siân Pearce was the conference’s second speaker. Siân, a solicitor with Asylum Justice and Newfields Law explored remote hearings in immigration tribunals. Her paper ‘SpeedBumps or Roadblocks? Interpretation and Remote Hearings in the Immigration Tribunals’ explored the concerns surrounding access to justice in cases involving interpretation, and raised a number of issues relating to the fairness in real terms of legal proceedings where a party is not able to participate effectively, and may not understand, or have been adequately understsood in the process.
Dr Julie Doughty, a senior lecturer in law at Cardiff University explored remote hearings in family courts, the Court of Protection and the youth court. She explores the benefits of remote hearings in proceedings in these courts, and explored the accessibility of face to face hearings where the participants have limited means to travel long distances because of factors pertaining to their age or medical needs.
Dr Catrin Ffûr Huws’s paper, presenting work undertaken alongside colleagues at Aberystwyth University’s Departments of Psychology and Welsh and Celtic Studies explored a recent experiment into the use of interpretation in remote hearings. The work, undertaken yby Dr Huws, Dr Rhianedd Jewell and Dr Hanna Binks explored Augusto Boal’s legislative theatre techniques to explore how participants respond to proceedings involving an interpreter in order to suggest improvements to the current process, or to indicate where people may need to be made aware of the judgments they make about a speaker based on the intervention of an interpreter.
The fifth speaker of the day was Janet Clark, a senior researcher from HM Courts and Tribunals Service, who presented a summary of HMCTS’s recent evaluation of remote hearings during the Covid pandemic. This was a wide-ranging survey that explored the experiences of the judiciary, legal representatives, and the public of remote hearings, and highlighted how early problems were resolved, but also demonstrated that there are ongoing matters that need to be addressed in order to ensure the fairness and accessibility of the process.
Claire Jones delivered the sixth paper of the day. Claire is a tribunal judge who explored her, largely positive experiences, of remote hearings in tribunals. The less formal nature of the process meant that participants felt much more enabled to participate in the process, and enabled more cases to be resolved quickly.
The final speaker of the day was Owain Rhys James, a barrister with Civitas chambers in Cardiff whose paper explored the practical application of remote hearings in a paper titled Welsh as a legal language: interpreting bilingual legislation and the use of Welsh in courts and tribunals.
Organiser Dr Catrin Fflûr Huws explained:
‘This was a hugely important conference. A number of benefits were observed that would justify the continued use of remote hearings into the future. However, a number of concerns were also highlighted relating to: the effectiveness of participation, the increased workload for the legal profession, and the need to ensure adequate rest breaks and support for lay and professional participants during online hearings.’
A report detailing the key findings of the conference will be published during the autumn.