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Barristers urge caution on widespread roll-out of remote court hearings after Covid

The Bar of Ireland said remote hearings impact on judicial interaction and the management of witnesses.

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THE BAR OF Ireland has expressed support for the continued use of technological solutions in the courts after the Covid-19 pandemic, but urged caution on a widespread roll-out of remote hearings.

In a statement today, barristers said they recognise that the justice system underwent changes during the pandemic that “are, and should be, here to stay”, including the use of remote hearings.

They said their use for short or uncontroversial procedural business is to be welcomed in many cases even after the current crisis has passed.

However “careful consideration” is needed before a decision to use remote hearings more widely after the pandemic.

“There are, in our mutual experience, multiple and multi-faceted disadvantages with such hearings, when compared to the usual, in-person hearings that have delivered justice for centuries,” the Bar of Ireland said.

They said experience shows judicial interaction is less satisfactory in remote hearings and they can therefore be less effective at isolating issues and allowing argument to be developed.

There is concern that there may be an impact on the quality of evidence given as the management of witnesses, especially in cross-examination, is different.

“We are concerned that remote hearings present very considerable challenges to effective advocacy in cases involving evidence or complex narrative submissions. The very real, but often intangible, benefits of the human interaction inherent in in-person hearings cannot be ignored,” the statement said.

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“The universal sentiment across the four Bars is that remote hearings deliver a markedly inferior experience.”

The Bar of Ireland also said there are wider concerns about remote working and the impact on the training experience and general wellbeing.

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