Employment Tribunals Embrace Remote Hearings
Key Contact: Claire Knowles
Author: Adam McGlynn
Over the past few months many courts have been forced to close their doors to safeguard against the spread of COVID-19. Several cases have been postponed as a result or have, at least, required an additional preliminary hearing to discuss how best to proceed. Despite the disruption the judiciary are working hard to maintain access to justice in these challenging times. As a result, we have seen tribunals embrace new practices and their own version of the ‘new norm’. Perhaps most excitingly, the adoption of video hearings is a great technological step into the 21st century for the judiciary.
What technology is being used?
This question can be addressed during a case management discussion at a preliminary hearing. Where necessary judges have used platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business, however, this will require an assessment of the technical and administrative support available and online security. In most circumstances Employment Judges will prefer to use their Cloud Video Platform (CVP) which is an in-house tool operated by the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service. Judges have been, and are, receiving training specifically around CVP and so far we have seen the platform being used for full panel hearings of durations up to three days long.
What does a CVP hearing look like?
CVP is a video conference tool similar to Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Unique and important points include:
- CVP does not require any software download, instead the Employment Tribunal will email you a web address and PIN along with details of the hearing.
- CVP is accessible by mobile and tablet. Simply download the ‘Pexip Infinity Connect’ app with the black and white icon that looks like this: ] [
- A troubleshooting document is sent along with the details of the hearing in case there are any technical difficulties.
- Documents can be screen shared by the parties through the platform so it is important to ensure all documents saved and easily accessible prior to the hearing.
How will a video hearing proceed?
Once all parties are in attendance the Employment Judge will direct the hearing in much the same manner as in a courtroom. During a video hearing, however, the parties will need to follow the Judge’s instructions relating to camera and microphone muting and when they can and cannot leave the call. As the parties have slightly more power over proceedings it is important not to lose perspective of the importance and formality of the situation. To assist with this, here is a selection of etiquette tips when participating in a video hearing:
- Check how long the call will last for and find a quiet place which will be free from disturbances for that time;
- Ensure you are well positioned in front of the camera and that your attire and background are formal and presentable;
- Join the call promptly and wait patiently for the Judge to begin;
- Mute your microphone when not instructed to contribute and refrain from interjecting with comments or documents without permission; and
- Use the chat panel to politely indicate that you wish to speak and wait for instructions.
Will video hearings survive as lockdown restrictions are lifted?
As lockdown crawls towards the finish line more and more courtrooms are reopening to the public. However, a second spike is a very real concern and Employment Tribunals are remaining cautious and vigilant. A gradual return to normal will involve ‘hybrid hearings’ which will involve some individuals being physically present for the hearing and some accessing it remotely. This will ensure good social distancing practice and mitigate the impact of any outbreaks.
Can a solicitor represent me at a video hearing?
Finally, a solicitor can absolutely represent a party to a hearing being held remotely in the same way as at a hearing where the parties are physically present. If you have any questions about the new norm for Employment Tribunals or would like to discuss any upcoming, or anticipated, claim please contact our employment team.
Claire Knowles – Partner
Mark Alaszewski – Associate
Rebecca Mahon – Solicitor
Adam McGlynn – Trainee Solicitor