Explanatory Notes

Courts and tribunals: use of video and audio technology

92 The efficiency and timeliness of court and tribunal hearings will suffer during a covid-19 outbreak. Restrictions on travel will make it difficult for parties to attend court and without action a significant number of hearings and trials are likely to be adjourned. In criminal proceedings, the courts have a duty to deal with cases effectively and expeditiously and that includes making use of technology such as live video links, telephone or email where this is lawful and appropriate. Video link technology is increasingly being used across the court estate enabling greater participation in proceedings from remote locations. The courts currently have various statutory and inherent powers which enable them to make use of technology.

93 The Bill amends existing legislation so as to enable the use of technology either in video/audio-enabled hearings in which one or more participants appear before the court using a live video or audio link, or by a wholly video/audio hearing where there is no physical courtroom and all participants take part in the hearing using telephone or video conferencing facilities.

94 Provisions are also made within the Bill to enable the public to see and hear proceedings which are held fully by video link or fully by audio link. This enables criminal, family and civil courts and tribunals to make directions to live stream a hearing which is taking place in this manner.

95 There are existing restrictions on photography and sound recording in physical courts. Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 provides prohibitions on photography in courts.  The Contempt of Court Act 1981 prohibits the making of unauthorised sound recordings. These offences were created to protect participants in court proceedings, but long before the concept of a virtual hearing was thought possible.  Provisions in the Bill therefore create similar offences to protect participants and prohibit recording or transmitting live-streamed proceedings photography and sound recordings in the context of virtual hearings and live-links.

96 The Bill provides for restrictions to be imposed on individuals who are potentially infectious and that the decision to impose such restrictions can be appealed to magistrates’ court.  The Bill therefore makes provision that such hearings should be conducted fully by video link, unless the court directs otherwise, given the person appealing the decision would be subject to restrictions, and there is the risk of passing on the infection if they were to travel to court.


Prepared 18th March 2020