County Court Video and Telephone Hearings: How to Prepare
- AuthorAndrew Morley
There is a County Court in every major town and city in England and Wales. These civil courts deal with a vast array of cases such as those involving breach of contract, negligence, accidents, consumer disputes, debt, land disputes, landlord and tenant cases, mortgages and arguments over the terms of someone's Will, as well as divorce and matters affecting children from a relationship which has broken down.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic the County Courts adapted to ensure the continued delivery of justice by extending the existing arrangements for some straightforward matters to be dealt with by telephone to cover many more hearings (including where evidence is heard) by either telephone or video link (together known as Remote Hearings or, in the case of video, Virtual Hearings). And they look set to stay for some cases.
Andrew Morley, Chartered Legal Executive and Partner at Chattertons has forty years' experience dealing with County Court cases and considers here how non-lawyers can prepare.
Attending at court is always going to be daunting; often there will be much at stake. And remote hearings present their own challenges. Andrew comments "You must never forget that a remote or virtual hearing is still a hearing and must be approached with the same degree of respect for the Judge and the process. If I had to sum it up in one word that would be preparation."
The following points will help preparation for a remote hearing.
1. Notice of Remote Hearing
This important document issued by the court will set out what the parties are required to do in terms of when you must be ready for the hearing, providing your email and telephone details and sending documents to the court and other parties to the case. Study carefully what you are being asked to do and follow this to the letter.
2. Documents for the hearing
Take care in preparing any documents for the hearing; submit everything you have been asked to but nothing that is not required and put these in a logical order with page numbers. Remember that the Judge will most likely be reading these electronically. Make sure that you have access to an identical copy of the documentation yourself so that you can refer to this during the hearing and everyone else will be able to quickly locate this.
It may sound obvious, and many of us are familiar with the use of technology in our personal communications, but do make sure that you have a compatible device that is plugged in or fully charged. Desktop devices are preferable to mobiles. You will need a good internet connection so you may need to curb others users of the internet in the household for the duration of the hearing. The courts generally operate through the Cloud Video Platform (CVP) which can work better with some browsers than others. A few minutes checking compatibility and that cameras and microphones are switched on will be time well spent. Some courts will offer the opportunity for a test run. Give some thought as to whether you will be viewing documents electronically and if that will be on the same device then that needs some planning.
4. The environment you create
If you were going to court you would dress appropriately. If the Judge was actually to visit you in your home think about which room you would take him/her into and use this as the start point for the environment you create for a video hearing. In other words, sat up in bed wearing a novelty onesie will not create the right impression.
We are used to conducting our lives on our mobile phones while we go about our daily routines. A remote hearing is NOT the time for this and you should find a quiet and private space away from people where you will not be disturbed.
Make sure the camera is angled to show your head and shoulders. There should be no windows behind you (which puts you into silhouette and means others cannot see you properly) and make sure there are no distractions in the background. If possible change the settings to blur the background.
Noise can be very distracting for all concerned. Make sure that all children and pets are out of the way and looked after for the duration of the hearing. In fact no-one else must be in the room with you unless they are assisting you and the Judge has given permission. If you are expecting a delivery, make arrangements for someone else to answer the door. A remote hearing is not the day to have the builders in your home.
Only drink water and do not eat at all.
All other devices must be switched off or at the very least set to "silent". It is important that you must not communicate with anyone else during the hearing.
It is forbidden to record a remote hearing.
5. Court etiquette
Different types of judges in different settings should be addressed differently. To be safe it is recommended simply to address him/her as "Judge."
The golden rule in any hearing is to speak only when you are spoken to. It can be difficult, particularly during telephone hearings when you cannot, for example, see that the Judge is reading papers and should not be interrupted. There will always be occasions where two or more participants are talking at once or there are long silences where everyone is waiting for someone else to speak. It comes down to having patience and understanding. The Judges do understand this and have become used to running this type of hearing with efficiency.
If it is a telephone hearing it may be a good idea if every time you speak you simply state you name so that everyone else is clear who is speaking.
It may be necessary to mute your mic when you are not speaking (as this can cause feedback which distorts the voices of whoever is speaking at the time). Make sure that you do this if asked but also to unmute when you are speaking.
This Blog is written to raise awareness of these issues. While every effort has been made to ensure that it is correct at the time of first publication it may not be updated, even if the law changes. It is not intended to be specific legal advice and cannot be relied on as such. Chattertons are not responsible or liable for any action taken or not taken as a result of this Blog.