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HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) recently published their research report on the “Evaluation of remote hearings during the COVID 19 pandemic”, which was based on information provided by a range of user groups.  In this post, we will focus on some of the findings of the research in relation to public users, and look towards the immediate future of remote hearings. You can read our second post about the research, focusing on the findings in relation to public users, here.

The full research report can be accessed here. 



Remote video hearings had the highest rate of satisfaction amongst public users. 67% of users attending a remote hearing via video were satisfied with the overall experience of their hearing; the equivalent figures for attending remote hearings via audio and attending in person were 60% and 56% respectively. 

The main reasons identified for the higher satisfaction rate of remote attendance were: 

  • Strong judge moderation, including introductions and offering breaks 
  • Joining hearings from home increases the sense of security and comfort, by not having to see the opposing side and because users are in familiar surroundings 
  • It is more convenient, as not having to travel to the hearing saves time and money 


Replicating the court environment  

84% of public users that attended by video felt that their hearing was appropriately formal and official. Judicial respondents, however, generally perceived a greater difference in formality between in-person and remote hearings than public users. This is no doubt down to the fact that the judiciary have far more experience of being involved in hearings and therefore have a far larger reference base than the average public user. A number of judicial respondents felt that remote hearings resulted in more distractions and a reduction in concentration from hearing attendees. 


Communication during hearings 

Public users gave mixed views on whether it was easy to communicate with their legal representative during remote hearings.  Some used separate instant messaging whilst others were allowed to leave the hearing to communicate privately with their lawyer. Those that did have difficulty were often a result of not having pre-arranged a channel of communication, or not having multiple devices to facilitate other channels of communication. All parties felt that having breakout rooms attached to remote hearings to facilitate communication would be a valuable feature. 

Most public users were satisfied with their ability to communicate with the decision maker during remote hearings. However, some felt it was more difficult to communicate because a lack of non-verbal cues meant they were unsure if they should speak or if their point was being understood.   


Improving support for remote hearings

On the whole, most public users are well supported when attending hearings remotely.  The research found that users who received support were more positive about their experience than users who had not received support. 

The report highlighted a number of areas where support can be improved including:  

  • Increasing awareness of guidance about how to join and take part in remote hearings 
  • Exploring more mechanisms for court users to interact on video hearings with others such as their lawyers and interpreters – this could include private chat functions or private break-out rooms  
  • Ensuring that remote hearing joining instructions and links are sent out at a reasonable time in advance of the hearing  



The report shows that overall public users had a positive experience when attending remote hearings.  Remote attendees were slightly more likely to be satisfied with their experience than those attending in person, and if they were to attend a hearing again, they would prefer it to be via the same medium.  That is a testament to the exceptional job done by all those involved in quickly adapting and rolling out various options for remote hearings in response to the pandemic. 

General video conferencing software, such as Cloud Video Platform (and to a lesser extent Teams and Skype) that had previously been used to run video hearings, provided a solution that could be rolled out at speed and scale, in order to meet the immediate requirement to run hearings during the restrictions of the pandemic.  The Video Hearings service was already being developed before the pandemic as part of the HMCTS Reform programme.  It is designed as a bespoke platform to meet the specific needs of court and tribunal hearings; however, the service was not ready for roll out when the pandemic began.  The development of the Video Hearings service has continued at pace over the past months and we are currently in a transitions phase, moving away from the general video conferencing solutions.  The Video Hearing service is now in use for tax, property, employment and immigration hearings and will be rolled out across civil, family and criminal hearings during 2022. 

HMCTS will use the evaluation findings in their report to plan developments to their services. Some of the findings have already been addressed by the new Video Hearings service, for example, the service better reflects the formality of a court hearing, it provides virtual consultation rooms and built-in guidance for public users.  Early in 2022, HMCTS will launch some films, developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford Faculty of Law, to guide and support lay participants in remote hearings. 

Lessons learned from the evaluation by HMCTS and the development and further roll out of the bespoke Video Hearings service should lead to further improvements in the experiences of all users taking part in future remote hearings.  


By Saqib Rauf, Veritas Witness Training 

19th December 2021

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