(Cara Hope, Student Advisor and IAC Coordinator)

Student advisor and IAC coordinator, Cara Hope, talks about her experience of in person hearings versus virtual hearings. Cara has represented many clients during her time in the clinic and she recognises that both forms of hearings can have their perks and flaws.

Having attended over 15 hearings in the past two years, I have had the valuable opportunity of experiencing virtual, telephone, hybrid and in-person hearing formats. Although attending an in-person hearing in June 2021 was a thrilling experience after being completely online for a year, my personal bias is to virtual hearings which I can attend from the comfort of my own home.

My first hearing took place in-person, so when the coronavirus pandemic struck and all judicial services moved to a remote format, there was a heightened sense of panic. Hearings can be very stressful and attending under a new format for the first time can add to this.

Largely, there are two main ways of attending a remote hearing: telephone or by video platform. The Employment Tribunal tends to use Cloud Video Platform (CVP) which is generated by the Ministry of Justice in order to hold full evidential hearings. Whereas the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) prefer using Microsoft Teams. Personally, I prefer using CVP as I find the platform far easier to interact with and to see all members on the call.

On the one hand, a negative of remote representation for myself comes down to using the phone. Telephone conferences are very beneficial for straightforward situations such as preliminary hearings or case management discussions, as used by the SSSC, ET, Housing and Property First-tier Tribunal and Sheriff Court. When used for a full hearing, or when any amount of significant submissions are required, however, it can add a very tricky layer to the proceedings as you miss the non-verbal cues you are able to receive on video platform or real-life. This does not mean to say that CVP comes without its flaws, I can’t begin to count the time wasted through technical difficulties.

When compared with my own other top comparator, of attending hearings in-person, virtual hearings have significant advantages. Firstly, there is no need to worry about travel time which allows preparation to continue all the way up until 10am, when proceedings typically commence. Secondly, all documents and notes are available to me in the exact place I left them, on my desk. A hidden positive not many consider, is also the advantage of home comforts. This includes being able to have a pair of slippers on my feet instead of high heels, and endless coffee mere steps away. I have also found it easier to focus on the proceedings at hand, taking away the added distraction of having to adapt to new surroundings.

However, client interaction during a hearing is very different when taking place remotely. Hearings are particularly stressful for clients, and it can be difficult to convey as much empathy and support from afar, compared to having the client by your side. This has raised its own challenges over the past year, although, a little bit extra preparation ahead of a hearing can go a long way to provide the additional support for a client to take comfort in. Being able to provide a client with full support through the process is easier in person, and I would favour the traditional methods for that reason.

Overall, the adaptation of the justice system to proceed remotely through the COVID-19 pandemic was largely successful. I have seen clients wait months for a final hearing date to be set due to backlogs at the beginning of the pandemic, but thankfully now this appears to have resolved. I enjoy the plenty benefits CVP allows, still have a distaste for telephone hearings and very much looking forward to hopefully returning more often to in-person hearings, particularly in order to provide better support for my clients.

Cara Hope, student advisor and IAC coordinator

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