What should you consider when preparing for a virtual hearing?

Employment Tribunals are adapting to the ‘new normal’ by introducing, where possible, virtual proceedings, rather than waiting for a date when a hearing can be held in person.

Where parties are able to participate in a virtual hearing, this allows the claim to be heard, notwithstanding the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and helps to alleviate the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic. But what should you consider when preparing for a virtual hearing? We have summarised our top ten tips below.

  1. Be aware of the differences in a virtual hearing

    There has been lots of discussion about the differences between a virtual and in person hearing and the impact that may have on the case – the cross-examination of a witness could be less intense, the amount of documentation involved may be difficult to manage or the length of the hearing itself may be increased due to more frequent scheduled breaks.

  2. Video conferencing access

    It seems simple but, all witnesses must have access to a laptop or computer with video conferencing capabilities. The Cloud Virtual Platform (the system used by Tribunals) only works in certain internet browsers, therefore all participants must ensure access to a compatible browser, such as Google Chrome.

  3. Additional preparation

    Virtual hearings will require additional preparation for the parties, representatives and witnesses. Whilst witness statements are the norm in England, they aren’t in Scotland. They will however likely be used more frequently for virtual hearings in Scotland. Judges may also expect more agreed statements of facts and issues, to help speed up the process.

  4. Be aware of your surroundings

    All participants’ faces will be visible through use of webcams and, as such, they will be much closer than a hearing in person. Remember that eye rolls, head shaking etc will be far more visible than before! Now, more than ever, witnesses will be analysed when giving evidence.

  5. Witnesses

    There will be no physical waiting room, only a virtual one. A more detailed estimate of when witnesses will likely be required should therefore be discussed in advance. This will result in witnesses being given time slots, confirming when they should join the virtual hearing.

  6. Communication methods

    Methods of instant communication (such as WhatsApp) between representatives/instructing parties and with witnesses will require to be agreed in advance, to allow any discussions which would normally occur before or during the hearing to take place. It is important to bear in mind however that there should be no communication with a witness while they are giving evidence.

  7. Technical difficulties

    As with any new system, it is likely that there will be some sort of technical difficulties along the way. Should any issues arise in the final days before the hearing, or during the hearing itself, be patient! In addition, the WiFi connection to participate needs to be strong, in order to clearly see and hear everyone. It is a requirement that participants attend a test run before the hearing to highlight any difficulties.

  8. Bundles

    Electronic bundles are being used more frequently. If a bundle is electronic, parties and witnesses will need to consider how they will easily view the bundle. A second monitor/screen will likely be required. If electronic bundles are not used, each witness will require their own hard copy of the bundle.

  9. Public hearing

    No form of audio or visual recording of a virtual hearing is allowed, without the permission of the Tribunal. However, virtual hearings are still public, therefore be aware that members of the public and the press may still be in virtual attendance.

  10. Helpful hints

    Simple steps, such as opening key documents before the hearing starts, putting up a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the room you are using and muting your microphone when not speaking will make your first virtual hearing run as smoothly as possible. Should you be required to participate in a virtual hearing, we will be able to give you more useful tips!

Will virtual hearings be part of the ‘new normal’? It is expected that they will still take place, even after in person hearings resume again.

Therefore, we anticipate that any experience you can gain now will not be wasted in the future.

If you have any questions about virtual hearings or Employment Tribunals generally, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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