UK: How video hearings broke justice and stripped people of their rights

Wired reports on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the justice system, where the vast majority of hearings in magistrates' courts are now being conducted by videolink.

"Your day in court, which could change your life, is now on laptop instead of in person. You struggle with an intermittent connection, craning to hear the tinny sound and squinting to see faces of the people who hold your fate in their hands. For many charged with a crime since March, this is reality.

Courts have gone virtual, at least magistrates’ courts, where low-level crimes and all first appearances are dealt with. The law pre-pandemic was any person charged with a crime and denied police bail must have a remand hearing before a judge within 24-hours.


Ninety per cent of magistrates hearings used remote technology in some form by April 24 – a huge jump on previous figures. The largely untested and imperfect system can be slow and unreliable, excluding the criminal defendant from their own hearing. “We are seriously concerned about the difficulties remote hearings present for vulnerable defendants and the potential risk for miscarriages of justice to occur,” says Emily Bolton, the director of law charity APPEAL.

Research from justice watchdog Fair Trials surveyed defence solicitors during the pandemic and found “drastic deviations” from ordinary procedures has left people’s rights being “overlooked” and questioned whether defendants’ rights were being protected. Despite remote hearings keeping the system functioning, the report suggests defendants are receiving less effective legal assistance, less effective participation in hearings and less ability to challenge information presented."

How video hearings broke justice and stripped people of their rights (Wired, link)


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