Author
Stuart Broom

Stuart Broom

Senior counsel

Read More
Author
Stuart Broom

Stuart Broom

Senior counsel

Read More

17 March 2020

Disputes Quick Read – 13 of 23 Insights

Disputes Quick Read: Coronavirus - a growth in virtual courts?

  • QUICK-READ

The threat of coronavirus will impact the operation of court systems. Just yesterday, global announcements included:

  • the US Supreme Court will postpone oral arguments scheduled for the next few weeks
  • the European Court of Human Rights will maintain only essential activities – in particular, the handling of priority cases and
  • the Indian Supreme Court has said that there would be virtual courts in operation soon and that lawyers would be able to make oral submissions via video conferencing from as early as next week.

It seems likely that the use of virtual courts, and technology in dispute resolution, will have to increase globally in order to prevent an ever-growing backlog of cases during any period of total or partial shutdown. 

But how will the UK courts react?  As matters stand, the advice from HMCTS is that the business of our courts and tribunals continues, and that judges can consider the use of audio or video links. One might say that the reaction has been too slow.  The Lord Chief Justice has, however, today announced that COVID-19 will impact the operation of all courts and that there is an urgent need to increase the use of telephone and video technology immediately. The courts are also due to announce contingency plans imminently, and in the coming days, the UK government is expected to put forward emergency legislation including measures to expand the use of video hearings in courts.

While that all sounds encouraging – and no doubt the volume of telephone hearings and evidence by video link will increase – it would be a substantial step to move from the current system (which largely makes use of this technology for procedural matters or for parts of a trial) to the holding of commercial trials remotely. 

Such developments ordinarily occur gradually, through consultation and pilot schemes. Parties tend to view change conservatively, and progress can be slow.  

At times like these it can be hard to find the positives. The outbreak could, however, prove to be a welcome catalyst: a prompt for radical change in the handling of disputes, and the technology to support them.

In this series

Disputes & investigations

Disputes Quick Read: Care required when drafting SPA claim notices

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Disputes & investigations

Disputes Quick Read: The latest on Unexplained Wealth Orders

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by Multiple authors

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Disputes Quick Read: Tomlin Orders – ensuring the confidentiality of settlement terms

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by Multiple authors

Disputes & investigations

Disputes quick read: climate change activism by litigation

by Multiple authors

Disputes & investigations

Disputes quick read: pilot error?

by Andrew Howell

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