Authors

Andrew Howell

Partner

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James Bryden

James Bryden

Senior associate

Read More
Authors

Andrew Howell

Partner

Read More
James Bryden

James Bryden

Senior associate

Read More

15 April 2020

Disputes quick read – 6 of 18 Insights

Disputes Quick Read: High Court orders parties to explore options for 5-week remote trial

  • QUICK READ

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, we are seeing the UK courts grappling with various applications to adjourn upcoming trials. So far, it seems that the courts are willing to embrace remote hearings to avoid adjournments – not only for simple cases, but also complex disputes. We think this is the right approach.

In a decision handed down recently, the High Court ordered the parties to a £250m claim listed for a 5-week trial in June – which involves four live witnesses of fact and 13 expert witnesses – to cooperate in exploring ways in which the case could be heard in a fully remote trial.

The claimants had sought to have the claim adjourned, arguing (among other things) that the technological challenge was too great. The judge was not convinced. He noted that since 16 March 2020, there have been at least two examples of fully remote trials taking place (albeit on smaller scales) and the technological challenges were not so great as to make it appropriate to adjourn now.

The judge emphasised that cooperation and planning was essential if a remote trial was going to be possible, and that he would expect any proposed system to be subjected to robust testing first, both to ensure adequate video and audio quality, and also to confirm that documents could be displayed quickly.

We welcome the court's approach. Complex commercial cases can take many years to reach trial, and the court and the litigants should cooperate to explore options in scenarios where adjournment can potentially be avoided through a remote hearing. Live trials will ordinarily be much preferred, but it will be interesting to see whether remote hearings remain a procedural option once the pandemic has run its course.

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