The Commercial Court in London is considering whether to make some hearings remote by default once the pandemic has passed, after managing to keep on top of its entire caseload during lockdown, according to a report in the UK Gazette.
In a meeting with court users, Mrs Justice Cockerill said judges, court staff and users were actively thinking about whether to make remote or ‘hybrid’ hearings – which are part live, part virtual – the go-to position for certain types of cases after COVID-19.
The idea follows a successful three months for the Commercial Court in which it accumulated “almost no backlog of work”.
The Gazette says minutes from the court’s June meeting show that there were only four occasions since lockdown when a trial proved impractical.
In each case there were particular issues such as illness or lockdown in a remote location without reliable internet access.
Concerns were raised that remote hearings are too informal, with counsel taking instructions via WhatsApp and parties interacting freely while on mute.
Court users also cited incidents where participants have photographed proceedings.
Judge Cockerill said she hoped these would be “ironed out” over time.
The judge added that there appeared to have been no fall-off in court business, with 288 actions commenced in January to March 2020, up from 269 the previous year.
A full 60 hearings took place in April 2020, compared with 52 the previous year.
Previous figures had suggested that Brexit was having an effect on the court, in particular on the number of litigants from EU countries.