BSG Bites 4: The Reality of Remote Hearings

The advocates are in attendance, dressed from the waist up. The hearing is delayed as the Judge’s laptop battery is dead. A few moments later…we are up and running.

The Applicant proceeds, making the necessary introductions. He forgets to turn his microphone on. To address the awkwardness, he remarks;  ‘one year into the pandemic and you think I would have learned to use this by now.’

Meanwhile, Counsel for the First Respondent seems bothered by something in the corner of the screen. She hesitates to interrupt, so she waits, patiently for an appropriate opportunity. Suddenly, the First Respondent herself disappears off screen, nobody has noticed yet.

A few moments later, Counsel takes the opportunity to address the Court and explain that the First Respondent is having, you guessed it, ‘technical difficulties.’ The Judge invites Counsel to consult her client, perhaps by asking her to leave the hearing and re-enter. The Court rises while Counsel duly assists.

10 minutes later, the hearing resumes. Counsel reports that her client can see the attendees but unfortunately, she cannot hear them. The First Respondent does not have access to a computer, she has learning disabilities, low cognitive ability and is using Teams via her mobile phone. Counsel, thinking quickly, finds a solution. She calls her client using her personal phone, turns the volume up on her laptop and asks her client to confirm if she can hear. The (virtual) room waits in suspense…she responds…’yes, loud and clear.’

The hearing goes ahead without any further hiccups. Until of course, the matter is to be listed again.

The parties seek a hearing 1 week from today. The Judge, knowing that this is an impossible task, instructs her Clerk to speak with listings anyway. Alas, a hearing 1 week from today is ‘absolutely unfeasible.’ Unless the matter can be ‘heard by a different Judge?’….the advocates shake their heads and do not hesitate to interrupt. ‘This would be the third Judge to hear this matter in the past 3 months?!’  

The Judge apologises, nothing further can be done. The frustration continues…

We thought we reached the peak of technical malfunctions when our learned friend appeared as a Cat on a Zoom hearing, but how wrong we were! From muted mics to accidentally sharing screens, will the legal profession ever get used to this new way of working? In my opinion, some things and especially Court hearings with vulnerable parties, ought to be resumed in person. But wait, will that mean we can’t wear pyjama bottoms anymore?!

By Indiya Kainth, Aspiring Solicitor and Paralegal at Brendan Fleming Limited

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