Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning has updated the Law Society on its work to repurpose existing technology to enable judges, registrars and parties to cases join a virtual courtroom.
The goal is to facilitate virtual courts, sitting initially on a pilot basis, from the start of next term.
A virtual meeting room (VMR) will be set up for the purpose of each court sitting.
The courts body is using a leading virtual meeting room service powered by the PEXIP video-streaming app.
Participants can join a PEXIP session from other video streaming services – including Skype, Zoom, Cisco Webex and Teams – without the requirement that all parties use either the same app or a managed integration tool to connect.
The Chief Justice and Presidents of the jurisdictions have established a working group of judges to look at the practicalities of using VMR technology to hear cases.
Subject to mock trials that are being run this week, the Chief Justice and Presidents hope to progress this approach for some cases next week.
It is envisaged that the first remote hearings will take place in the appellate courts, with a gradual roll-out to other jurisdictions thereafter.
Practitioners whose cases will form part of this pilot will be contacted by the Court Registrar and provided with the necessary information to enable them to join the court remotely.
The solution will run on any standard laptop or touchpad that is microphone and video-enabled – it does not require any Courts Service equipment.
Guidance will be provided to the parties invited to join the court remotely.
Society President Michele O’Boyle pointed out that the Courts Service is developing and providing this new facility without the luxury of detailed engagement and testing.
It will be asking practitioners participating in the initial pilot courts to appreciate these constraints and provide feedback to ensure that it can provide a viable virtual court experience.
Remote hearings will not be suitable for all cases, and the capacity to deal with large numbers of remote hearings simultaneously will be constrained by Courts Service infrastructure.
For that reason, the President of each court will issue guidance or practice directions regarding how remote hearings will operate in their court.