The remote experience

Prior to March 2020 I had never even heard of a 'remote court hearing', let alone conducted one. Then, of course, Covid-19 struck and our working lives changed in a way none of us could ever have imagined. Of the 57 remote hearings I've conducted or been involved in since early July 2020, three were in the High Court of Judiciary of England & Wales and two were local Sheriff Court proofs (evidential hearings). 11 of those hearings took place over video conference with the remainder over telephone call. It is fair to say that I, like many of my family law colleagues across the country, have experienced my fair share of remote courts over the past year.

Inverness Justice Centre

In early April 2020 the new Justice Centre opened in Inverness. A fantastic looking building and one in which my fellow solicitors and I across Inverness and the Highlands have been keen to appear. This week I was able, for the first time in 14 months, to set foot in an actual court room and, for the first time ever, to appear in the new Inverness Justice Centre. The Justice Centre is a modern and impressive building which, despite the beautiful and unique setting of Inverness Castle, is, in many respects, a vast improvement on our previous local court setting. The facilities for the public and clients are significantly improved with bright, spacious waiting areas and a number of rooms in which solicitors can meet with their clients before court.

Moving out of the pandemic

We are moving slowly out of the restrictions that the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed upon us. My experience of the remote court system has largely been a positive one. The pace at which the Scottish Court Service set up and rolled out remote hearings last year to ensure the continuation of the administration of justice in family law matters has been impressive. The proofs that I have conducted over WebEx both ran smoothly and meant that important decisions relating to the welfare of children were not delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, having now appeared again in an actual court room, I have been reminded of the value that in-person hearings can have in certain situations and for certain cases.

I have written before (in September 2020 March 2021 about our transition to the remote court as a consequence of Covid-19. I also recently attended the Judicial Institute for Scotland's Conference – Civil Justice Post Pandemic. I have reflected upon the comments of Lady Wise during the Conference. She commented that a "one size fits all" approach is unlikely to work as we move forward and felt that remote court hearings could complement rather than replace our established ways of working. Lady Dorrian echoed this view in concluding the conference by stating that "they say you can't have the best of both worlds, but that is no reason not to try."

There is a place for remote court hearings as we emerge from lockdown life. A hybrid (remote/in-person) approach to court hearings is the direction in which I think we are heading, and it is one which is going to improve family justice provision across the country. I look forward to my next appearance in court and to watching how the court system evolves over coming months.


Sarah Lilley