Virtual hearings work!  London-based partner Peter Hardy and associate Marine de Bailleul report on a five-day trial they attended this week, entirely remotely, using technology, in a complex US$530+ million multi-jurisdiction enforcement dispute in the Commercial Court before Mr Justice Teare. This was one of, if not the first, full hearing in the English court system to take place entirely virtually. We share our experience of both what went well and what went wrong with the technology used, and also provide some practical tips for anyone in a similar position. We would be delighted to discuss further with anyone who is curious about learning more. In short, it was considered a major success by all and described by the judge as a “most remarkable” achievement.

Autoren: Peter Hardy

Technological solution used

A few days before the trial was due to commence, Mr Justice Teare directed the parties to use their best efforts to accommodate the entire trial remotely, via video-conference. In ruling that way, the judge rejected an application from our opponents that the hearing be adjourned, which included their leading counsel’s prophecy that the proposed solution would be an “unmitigated disaster”. For strategic and forensic reasons, it was important for our client that the hearing be conducted as planned, not least because linked proceedings in other jurisdictions were waiting upon and directly impacted by this hearing. The approach taken by the judge on the adjournment application is in line with the English courts’ recently published guidance stating that, before agreeing to adjourn any hearing, parties shall use the available time to explore the possibility of conducting the hearing using technology.  

Installing the technology

The claimants’ solicitors (from our side) submitted a proposal to the court and other parties which contained alternative options for several video-conferencing platforms. After practical discussions on technical aspects, the judge and parties landed on using Zoom in collaboration with dedicated IT helpdesk style support from IT consultants Sparq. The platform and necessary software were installed on both (i) IT systems within the relevant law firms’ offices and chambers and the court, and (ii) home systems, such as desktops, laptops and other personal devices. The judge had expressed reservations about having to use his Ministry of Justice supplied laptop, so to address this, the claimants provided the judge and his clerk with a Surface Pro laptop preloaded with the necessary software to access the platforms, and a microphone and camera, as well as with a monitor and cable to connect to the Surface Pro laptop. Tests were conducted prior to the start of trial to ensure the platform worked well in the various jurisdictions where the witnesses, experts, and lawyers were based. The role of the third party IT service provider (Sparq) in providing dedicated, full-time and immediate technical support throughout trial was important.