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Understanding when remote tribunal hearings can be used and where they risk undermining access to justice: new TLEF research

04 June 2021

The Legal Education Foundation (TLEF) has published new research which sheds light on the experience of tribunal judges as they adapted to the use of remote hearings in the early months of the pandemic.

TLEF is an independent grant making foundation that focuses on the essential role of legal education in helping people and organisations to understand and use the law as a tool for change.

The research was commissioned by the Senior President of Tribunals to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the tribunals, identify opportunities for improvement and guide future developments. 

TLEF gathered the views of over 1,500 judicial office holders on a range of topics including:

  • their satisfaction with the support and guidance they were offered;
  • their views on the technology that was used;
  • their perceptions of the impact of remote hearings on the practical and emotional barriers to participation experienced by appellants;
  • the impact of proceeding remotely on their ability to identify and make adjustments for vulnerable appellants; and
  • the impact of remote hearings on the structure of hearings and their decision making process.

The survey also explored the impact of proceeding with hearings remotely on the wellbeing and morale of judicial office holders.

The report’s 35 recommendations include:

  • The introduction of pre-hearing checks to identify vulnerable tribunal users and provide them with appropriate support to participate effectively
  • Urgent action to improve access to papers for judicial office holders and parties
  • Urgent action to review the functionality and stability of Cloud Video Platform and additional design features to be added to the specification for any future platform
  • The recommendation of a minimum threshold for technical performance below which the fairness and efficacy of hearings is threatened to ensure consistency and uphold the rule of law
  • Additional safeguards to support the effective participation of appellants in detained settings
  • Urgent action to review the data already captured by HMCTS on remote hearings and address key data gaps [recommendations

In addition, leadership judges should issue guidance recommending the reservation of remote hearings for:

  • short, straightforward hearings concerning points of law
  • hearings not involving live evidence;
  • hearings where all parties are represented and joining with their representative; and
  • hearings where all parties have access to good broadband and adequate technology.

Importantly, the report recommends that this guidance should remain in place until independent research exploring the impact of remote hearings on outcomes and perceptions across a representative sample of tribunal users has been conducted

Dr Natalie Byrom, TLEF Director of Research said:

“This research adds to a growing body of evidence which helps us to better understand the circumstances in which remote hearings can be used, and where their adoption risks undermining access to justice.

It also provides important insights into the impact of remote justice on those who are tasked with delivering it.”

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on tribunals: The experience of tribunal judges is available from research.thelegaleducationfoundation.org

For more information on the report, contact: the report lead author and TLEF director of research and learning Dr Natalie Byrom: natalie.byrom@TheLEF.org

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