Remote hearings could become default in Commercial Court



The Commercial Court 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.

In a meeting with court users, Mrs Justice Cockerill said judges, court staff and users are 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 post Covid-19.

The idea follows a successful three months for the Commercial Court in which it accumulated ‘almost no backlog of work’. According to minutes from its June meeting, only four occasions have arisen since lockdown when a has trial proved impractical. In each case there were particular issues such as illness or lockdown in a remote location without reliable internet access.

Cockerill J added that there appears to have been no fall off in court business, with 288 actions commenced in January to March 2020, up from 269 the previous year. Meanwhile 60 hearings took place in April 2020, compared with 52 the previous year.

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. However, Cockerill J said she hoped these would be ‘ironed out’ over time.

Some 13 courts are currently available in the Rolls Building to accommodate live hearings with social distancing. A £1.5bn claim against Barclays over a Middle Eastern investment deal is currently being heard in the building, with a small number of people in the court room and the rest joining remotely.

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