Remote trial preparation and attendance: key practical steps and considerations
Whilst remote trials have helped ensure the court system continues during the COVID-19 pandemic, they can present certain challenges and pitfalls. The following key practical steps and considerations will hopefully assist those attending remote trials:
- Confirm to the court the email addresses and telephone numbers of those attending (if the attendees consent). This will enable the court to send the link for trial to all attendees (usually the day before trial).
- Test your device and broadband to ensure compatibility with the platform used by the court.
- Share the guidance and test link with counsel and witnesses (and anyone else attending) and ensure they carry out the same compatibility tests and can be seen and heard on their devices.
- Set up a separate meeting with counsel and witnesses (and clients) on a video conferencing platform for confidential discussions before, during and after trial.
- The trial bundle will be in electronic format and must be sent to counsel and witnesses prior to trial. Check they can access the trial bundle at the same time as addressing the court. If possible, two devices are preferable – one to consider the trial bundle and the other to address the court.
- The parties will be held in a virtual waiting room before the trial. All attendees should mute themselves and switch off their cameras until invited by the court to appear and speak.
- Inform the witnesses they will be required to swear an oath or affirm before giving evidence. Make sure counsel has a copy of the wording as the trial judge may not.
- During trial instructing solicitors may wish to communicate with counsel. Set up a secure instant message or email group. If necessary for witnesses to be included, set up a separate group, but ensure no communications with witnesses during their oral evidence.
- Legal representatives should dress formally like they would for any in-person trial and witnesses asked to dress appropriately.
- Do not record any part of the trial otherwise there is a risk of being in contempt of court.
- Ensure you are in a quiet space with no background or distractions. Use headphones to avoid trial content being overheard by others.
Recently the High Court Chancellor, Sir Julian Flaux, when speaking about remote trials, said the legal profession needs to ‘guard against unintended consequences of informality’ and new advocates risk losing ‘the inherent sense of how to behave in court.’ Our final recommendation therefore would be simply to treat a remote trial in the same way as attending in person.