As a civil practitioner I do not miss travelling around the country, often having to stay overnight then hanging around often scruffy and poorly serviced courtrooms and council offices waiting to get started. You don't have long days before tribunals followed by long journeys home. Even if you stay away, keeping social distancing means working together in the evenings and early mornings is impractical if you observe correct biosecurity.
Working remotely therefore saves enormous time and cost and is also less demanding on you and the team around you. Adapting to electronic documents is not difficult though I still prefer paper for ease of navigation. But screen sharing makes up for what paper and in-person hearings provide. Judges can be reluctant to have bits of paper handed up during live hearings and often spare copies of missing or clearer versions of documents are not available. Instantly sharing a document visually with everyone is much easier. You can also point things out while doing so. In my specialisms of planning and land law we can even collectively look over a site using Google's StreetView (including aerial views) as points arise. This is very helpful and often avoids having to note a point to be checked on site.
Having just a face in front of you allows you to focus better. You can still see reactions in faces. And if like me you need one sort of glasses for distance and another for small print, this is easier than coping with bi- or multi-focal lenses or simply removing and putting back on a pair of glasses as you move back and forth from addressing the court to searching text within a document.
Witnesses have been able to give video evidence for years and so this presents nothing new or problematic. In civil cases statements are exchanged in advance of hearings and are in front of witnesses along with bundles. Experts will have their notes to hand as well. So the risk of coaching or assisting out of sight when presenting remote evidence is unlikely to be a real risk. In any event, it is not uncommon for a witness to request to research factual answers outside formally giving evidence since the process of giving evidence is both information providing as well as opinion testing.
Finally, it is easy to set up say a WhatsApp chat with your team or simply text or email during hearings in order to take instructions. This avoids the current impracticality of speaking to your team and listening in a room together where you still have to keep 2m apart (or 1m with a mask which makes addressing the tribunal awkward). It also means that in the run up to hearings and during them everyone has the chance to comment communally while you can instantly call everyone for a group chat or video call as required including during quick breaks from the hearing. As soon as a hearing adjourns, no longer do you search around to find an empty room, wondering what papers to take from the court/inquiry room and sending someone off to find refreshments. Or going yourself while trying to have a conversation with your client. Instead you mute the sound on your computer and turn off the video link, remain at your desk with everything around you and at your fingertips, then connect up with your team for whatever needs collectively reviewing. Then you can use your own facilities for whatever kind of break you need.
I therefore welcome the new normal working remotely both as a practical and efficient way to work as well as one that is better both for my wellbeing and is kinder to clients' pockets.
KEVIN LEIGH © 2020
33 BEDFORD ROW
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