01/31/2022 - UK News: 'Visual Cues' Lost in Video Trials But 'Opening Trials' to Public is Gained

In May 2020 the first ever remote trial in the Technology and Construction court was held in England. Using the cross platform tool, Zoom, the case reached its conclusion with a settlement of 3 million pounds following the repeated floodingof a family home. The trial, held entirely remotely, was seen as a new way to beat the threat of of the Covid 19 pandemic and could help transform trials even when COVID 19 has completely dissipated.

The case was brought by construction lawyers Barton Legal, alongside Peters & Peters and two members of 39 Essex Chambers. The Honourable Mrs Justice Jefford DBE rejected the defendant's application to adjourn the case; opting for the use of Zoom, she noted it had already taken more than four years to come to trial.

Expert Witness, David Daly said: “It was exciting to be involved in the first-ever remote TCC trial and to be participating via Zoom. It worked well in terms of the documents and I think the biggest hurdle would have been the ability to look at a very large and detailed spreadsheet on a computer screen, and not altogether at an enlarged hard copy.

Fortunately, the case settled before we had to deal with that; a problem for another day.”
All aspects of the case ran seemingly smoothly. Screen sharing allowed evidence to be viewed easily and the defendant saw its main witness repeatedly challenged over video and even the closeness and atmosphere of the traditional courtroom remained.

With evidence supplied to the court remotely, and with Paul Darling OBE QC's cross examination conducted by video, the cyber-secure video stream was open for journalists, members of the public public with a limit of up to forty persons.

Paul Darling OBE QC, barrister at 39 Essex Chambers, commented: “Among the principal concerns when it comes to remote trials is the loss of visual cues. Any barrister will tell you that body language is invaluable in cross examination. “What the trial has proved beyond reasonable doubt, however, is that none of the intimacy of the physical courtroom is in fact lost with a remote trial. Rather, video sharing can in fact heighten our ability to dissect testimony, whilst opening up proceedings to the public.”

However, it should be noted Zoom cases have not always run smoothly. Judge Jeffrey Middleton in St Joseph County in southern Michigan, U.S had harsh words for a defendant when his username appeared on the screen: ‘Your name’s not Buttf***er 3000, you yo-ho,’ before asking ‘what kind of idiot logs into court like that?’

A growing mood among users of the British adversarial system is that a new remote age of court cases would be a forward step. Please let me know your comments below.