Lawyer Joe O’Malley (head of commercial litigation and dispute resolution at Hayes Solicitors) told this year’s Law Society litigation conference that some warnings had been issued about widespread use of remote hearings.
There is a requirement under the Constitution that justice be administered openly, and a requirement for hearings to be held in public, he told the conference (4 November).
However, remote hearings offered efficiencies in terms of travel time and waiting time, which were beneficial.
Colleagues in the jurisdiction of England and Wales had been particularly cautious about potential tampering of witnesses, O'Malley said, and some courts had directed that remote evidence be given from an approved location.
Technical solutions had also evolved, such that the entire remote room was visible to the court, he added, so that nobody would be in a position to interfere with or assist a witness.
While short or uncontroversial remote hearings were unobjectionable, some disadvantages had been pointed out – such as a difference in levels of judicial interaction and intervention.
Some practitioners believe that the management of witnesses is less satisfactory in remote hearings.
And there can be challenges to effective advocacy in complex cases heard remotely.
The lawyer (small picture) added that having a physical hearing date could often act to push matters towards settlement.
A hearing date can “give that necessary pinch-point to get business done,” O’Malley said.
Remote lawyer liaison had also been facilitated with longer court breaks, and side collaboration often took place outside of the official court communication channels, where queries and clarifications could be dealt with.
There have now been 10,000 virtual hearings in Irish courts, O’Malley said, and the Courts Service envisages a future of hybrid courts.
Parties should try to agree issues as much as possible in advance, he said, in order to facilitate the hybrid system and shorten hearings.
In general, witness actions would return to physical hearings, O’Malley concluded.