Although COVID-19 related restrictions have eased in the UK it is likely that virtual court hearings are here to stay. Once I got over the initial shock of putting a shirt and tie on again, I've found it a smooth process. I think there are real benefits in conducting virtual court hearings. It's early days but virtual hearings have the potential to make the court process more efficient which can only benefit clients and those who appear in courts. Regular readers will know we've been looking at how different jurisdictions have adapted to virtual hearings. I asked Stefano Parlatore co-head of Dispute Resolution at Italian law firm Legance to share his experiences from Italy.

What is your experience of virtual court rooms in your jurisdiction since the outbreak of Covid-19?

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic the Italian Government has amended the procedure for civil hearings (which has always been in person hearings only) by introducing two new procedures: the written hearing and the virtual hearing (to be held exclusively through Microsoft Teams). The choice between the two procedures is left up to the single court divisions which can issue guidance for the judges of the division and, ultimately, to each judge who shall take into account the peculiarities of the specific case.

Virtual hearings are being used increasingly by Italian court judges, especially in interim proceedings where the parties discuss urgent measures or seizure orders. After some technical difficulties encountered at the beginning, more and more judges have become familiar with the virtual hearing platform and the same can be said for lawyers. Nevertheless, the potential issues relating to lack of, or poor connection, background noise or difficulties in hearing all participants, may have an impact on the management of the hearing and on its effectiveness in terms of conveying the issues to the judge.

Do you think this is going to result in a permanent change for the way your court system works in the future?

This is certainly possible but any development in this respect will first need, at least, a change in mindset (still many people are of the view that a hearing in person is to be favoured), and an improvement in the IT equipment made available to judges and court clerks, and in the IT infrastructure of courts.

Do you have any top tips for solicitors or solicitor advocates (counsel) appearing in a virtual court?

Be prepared in advance, preparation for a virtual hearing is even more important in my view, since it is very difficult in a virtual hearing to get any feeling from the judge or the counterparty’s counsel. Keep your tone of voice loud, speak slowly, be concise if possible, and avoid any voice overlaps with the counterparty counsel.


Niall McLean

Partner & Solicitor Advocate