COVID-19: New Chief Coroner’s guidance on remote hearings22/06/20
As we see the re-opening of courts following the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Coroner has issued new guidance: ‘Guidance Number 38: Remote participation in Coronial proceedings via video and audio broadcast’.
A few points of note from the guidance
- It remains a requirement for the Coroner to be physically present in the courtroom. As such, the terminology used is that coroners’ hearings are ‘partially remote’. This also means that if we go into another lockdown situation and the courts are closed, we will revert to a scenario where no inquests/pre-inquest review hearings are heard at all.
- Coroners’ hearings cannot be live-streamed but a live feed could be relayed to a secondary courtroom.
- Partially remote hearings should take place wherever possible if the technology allows, it is in the interests of justice and its use is consistent with the administration of justice.
- Live video can be used to enable Interested Persons' (IP's) participation and to take witness evidence.
- The press and public can join the hearing in person (assuming there is space for them to be socially distanced) or via audio-only lines (not via live-streaming) as long as the coroner has disapplied s9 of the Contempt of Court Act.
- Jury inquests are not suitable for remote hearings save in the 'most exceptional and limited circumstances'.
This is positive news, as it will mean that a system in the main stalled for three months can start to creak back into action. It could also encourage some Coroners who have not already embraced the ‘partially remote’ hearing to do so. The benefits of this are clear in terms of limiting the risk of infection by attending court and hopefully minimising a further increase in the backlog of inquests in the system. However, as is frequently the case with the coronial jurisdiction, there will likely be significant regional differences in approach (sometimes due to technical limitations, sometimes due to a coroner’s preference for in-person hearings) and we are already seeing this across the country.
The suitability of hearings to be remote should be considered on a case by case basis; some may simply be inappropriate to be heard remotely. To date, it is the fairly simple inquests with a handful of witnesses that have been held remotely. The guidance already excludes almost all jury cases from being held remotely and there are other reasons why it may not be possible; for example, the family or one of the witnesses having inadequate IT access, the sheer number of people involved, or the facts of a case being unconducive to a video-link hearing, if interpreters are required, there is a lack of support for the family if they are at home, etc. Despite these barriers, our experience of remote hearings for Coroners and other tribunals is positive and healthcare providers should expect to see an increase in their number and prepare to participate in them.
How Capsticks can help
Capsticks is a market leader in the healthcare and inquest field and is ranked in the top tier for clinical negligence work by the Chambers Guide to the Legal profession and the Legal 500.
If you would like to discuss the implications of this guidance further, or any other related cases or issues, please contact Georgia Ford, Tracey Lucas and Adam Hartrick.