Video enabled criminal hearings guide issued amid coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

Video enabled criminal hearings guide issued amid coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has released guidance for defence practitioners regarding video enabled criminal hearings throughout the coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak. The guidance contains detailed information on how practitioners should proceed before, during and after hearings, and has instructed them on how to receive hearing notifications and seek technical supports. Practitioners will also be provided with a daily checklist. HMCTS has revealed that all video enabled criminal hearings will be hosted using Cloud Video Platform (CVP), thereby allowing participants to appear in court remotely by video link using laptops, tablets, and other internet facilitated devices.

HMCTS has outlined which individuals will be in the courtroom, and which will attend the hearings via a video link. Those present in the courtroom will be judges, magistrates, legal advisers, court associates and other essential staff. Conversely, those expected to join virtually will be prosecutors, defence solicitors, probation, liaison and diversion, youth offending teams and interpreters. Courts will however still be able to request their physical attendance if this should be deemed necessary. Defendants will be assessed while in police custody for suitability to take part in video hearings, although this too will be subject to judicial discretion. Members of the public will be able to attend physical courtrooms provided that they observe social distancing rules.

Consideration will be given to priority listing of court hearings for the below categories:

• hearings with time limits about to expire

• vulnerable defendants, including young people

• defendants on remand, awaiting sentence

Among directions issued in the daily checklist, HMCTS has advised practitioners on the following:

• to expect an email detailing how to join video hearings

• to await contact from the Court Video Operator on client telephone conference and when the video hearing is to begin

• to see an usher at their earliest convenience should they attend court, to provide information on which defendant they will be representing and provide an email address and telephone number

• to email the nominated CVP address should they attend via video link, providing details of the defendant being represented and the practitioner's contact telephone number

Thorough directions have also been provided to practitioners on how they may contact their client in a court cell, knowing who in the cells will require a solicitor, attending court as the duty solicitor for overnight custody cases, and speaking with clients in a police station.

The full document regarding video enabled criminal hearings can be viewed here.

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