Court and tribunal hearings and Coronavirus (Covid 19)

Some hearings are not taking place in a court building at the moment due to the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. These hearings are often called ‘remote’ hearings and take place by video or phone call. This guide will help you understand more about these types of hearings and where to go for up to date information on how the Coronavirus pandemic might affect your hearing. It also has useful information on how to prepare and manage your case if you don’t have a lawyer to help you.
Man watches laptop
Court and tribunal hearings and Coronavirus

We have other guides and some films that talk about the law and processes involved in going to court that will be really useful too. Start by choosing the court you are going to from the options below:  

Going to the family court | Advicenow

Going to a civil court | Advicenow

Going to a tribunal | Advicenow

Since the outbreak of Coronavirus (Covid 19) many hearings have been taking place by video or phone call. These hearings are often called ‘remote’ hearings. More courts are opening up now but the courts that are open need to have fewer people there to keep everyone safe and reduce the spread of the virus. This means that sometimes some people involved in a hearing will go to the court building but others will join by phone or video. These hearings are often called ‘hybrid’ hearings.

If you can possibly afford it, do try and get legal advice if you have a court hearing of any kind. Hearings by video or phone call are new to most people and can feel rather daunting. See the section called Getting legal advice from a lawyer for more information.

Our top tips!

Before your hearing -

  • Make sure you read all the information from the court carefully so you know what you need to do on the day, or if you are stuck, get help in good time. 

On the day -

  • Make sure you are all set up and ready to go on the day of the hearing well in advance of the time that the hearing is due to start.
  • If you have problems during the hearing make sure you say so, but do this politely. If it is by phone you could interrupt by saying something like ‘I am sorry to interrupt but I can’t hear ….’ If it is by video you could put up your hand to get the attention of the judge.
  • Remember that if you are in a video hearing everyone can see your facial expressions and body language even when your microphone is off!
  • If you do get a lawyer to represent you make sure you have time to speak with them before the hearing and that you work out a way to communicate with them during the hearing, for example by text or Whatsapp.

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June 2021 
How to know if your hearing will be held remotely - by phone or video

The judge will decide if your hearing should happen over the phone or by video. The court will then let you know this by phone or email. If you have already had a hearing either in a court building or by video or phone call, the order made at that hearing will say if there is going to be another hearing and how that hearing will take place.

The court will take into account any problems you might face by the hearing going ahead by phone or video. So, it is really important to contact the court and tell them about anything that might make a phone or video hearing difficult for you such as a disability or if you simply don’t have things you need such as a smart phone, tablet or computer or reliable access to the internet. The court will then try and make sure you can participate in the hearing in some way or if that really isn’t possible, the hearing may be postponed until you can go to an actual court building for the hearing to take place.

What to do if you get ill just before your hearing

 If you get Coronavirus around the time of your hearing and feel you are too ill to take part in your hearing by phone or by video you must ask the court to delay the hearing - this is known as an adjournment. There is guidance on how to do this in Applications to adjourn civil and family hearings because of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the gov.uk website.

What you need to take part in a hearing by phone or video

If you do need to take part in a phone or video hearing working out how to use the technology may well be new to you. To join by phone or video, you will need:

  • An email address to get the instructions on how to join,
  • a phone - if it is a phone hearing,
  • a smart phone, tablet or a computer with internet access, often called 'devices', - if it is a video hearing,
  • a webcam and microphone (most laptops, tablets and all smart phones have these built in),
  • a quiet and private space where you will not be disturbed during the hearing and where no one else can overhear.

The court will contact you by email with instructions on how to join the hearing - we talk more about this in the next section.

Make sure that the court has your up to date email address and phone number - the ones you will use on the day of the hearing. If are not sure the court does have the right number or email address for you make sure you contact the court well in advance of the hearing to give them your correct personal details.

Preparing for a hearing by phone or video

The court will email or phone you to tell you that your hearing is going to take place by phone or video. It is hard to say when to expect your email from the court about how your hearing will take place. You need to check your junk folder regularly in case it goes in there. You may not get the link to join the hearing until the day before or even the morning of your hearing.  

When you do get your instructions from the court on how to join your hearing you need to read these carefully.

The court service has a useful guide on what to do if your hearing has to take place by phone or video call that you need to read before your hearing.

It is a good idea to read this guide very carefully well before your hearing so that you can re-read any tricky bits, test your equipment, and feel more confident on the day.

Tech tip!

It is essential to use the internet browser Google Chrome as the court video calling system works best on this. If you don’t have it on your smart phone, tablet or computer you need to download it by searching ‘download Google Chrome’ in a search engine.

Support during your hearing

You might want support from someone during your phone or video hearing. There are steps you need to take to find out if the judge hearing your case will agree to this. There is a guide called How to have someone support you in a remote hearing that explains how to go about this. Support Through Court is a charity that may be able to help you. You can fill in an online request form on their website or you can call their National Helpline on 03000 810 006 (Monday-Friday, 10.30am - 3.30pm, except Bank Holidays).

If you need to contact the court for any reason there should be contact details of the court dealing with your case on the paperwork you receive from the court, by post or email.

On the day of your hearing

Help with technical problems

If you have problems with sorting out the technology to take part you can get help by calling the HMCTS national helpline on 0330 8089405 -

Monday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm
Friday, 9am to 4pm
Saturday and bank holidays, 8am to 2pm

It is really important to call this number as soon as possible if you come across any technical problems so they can be sorted out quickly.

Make sure you are ready at least 20 minutes before the hearing is due to start.

Ideally, you need to find a quiet and private space to be in for the whole hearing. Wherever you are, the most important thing is that you cannot be overheard and you will not be disturbed. It is likely that the judge or magistrate will ask you to confirm you are in a quiet private space.

If you have children you will need to arrange childcare, if you possibly can. If you have pets try to make sure they can’t disturb you either!

For a phone hearing:

  • make sure your phone is charged,
  • you are in the place in your home with the best reception,
  • if you have headphones, try using them as then your hands will be free to take notes and go through your notes.

For a video hearing:

  • make sure your smart phone, tablet or computer is charged or plugged in,
  • you have good internet connection,
  • make sure you have Google Chrome on your device,
  • wear something clean and tidy,
  • make sure your face can be seen well on the screen by having a light or window in front of you, not behind you.

You may well need to take notes so remember to have paper and pens and something to write at - a desk or table.

If you have been sent the court bundle - a file of documents about the case - you will need this near you so you can look at it during the hearing. You might have this in a hard copy, sent by post or you may be sent an electronic version. If you have another device that you are not using for the hearing that you can see the electronic bundle on, that will help a lot during the hearing. Or, if you are able to access a printer, see if you can print the bundle. If you are joining by phone and you can only see the electronic bundle on your phone, use headphones if you have any, so that you can look at your phone as well as listen to the hearing. If you are not able to look at the documents being talked about, make sure you tell the judge.

To join the hearing by video you need to follow the instructions you have received from the court by email. You will be held in a virtual waiting room until everyone who is taking part is ready then the hearing will start by the judge introducing themselves and explaining how the hearing will be run.

If you are joining by phone the court will usually call you - this may be from a withheld number. If you have to call in yourself it will say this in the instructions for the hearing.

Sometimes hearings take longer than expected which might mean you are not contacted at the start time. The court do try to let you know this but it doesn’t always happen. Be prepared to wait for the start of the hearing and also, leave extra time after in case it goes on longer. 

If you don’t hear from the court shortly after the time your hearing is meant to start, do call the court. It is important to understand that if you are not ‘at’ the hearing the court can make decisions about your case, without you, that could be very difficult to challenge later. So, for this reason, make sure you chase up the court if you aren’t contacted or can’t join the hearing after 10 - 15 minutes. 
During your phone or video hearing

It is really important to let the judge know if you are having technical problems. If you are not able to do so because of the problem - don’t panic. Leave the hearing and try and re-join. If that doesn’t work call the technical support number 0330 8089405.

Even though the hearing won’t be taking place in a court room  all the normal court room rules still apply. One of the most important of those rules is that you must not record the video or audio or take screen shots of the hearing. If you do, you are committing a criminal offence.

Other rules mean that you cannot:

  • drink anything other than water,
  • eat anything,
  • smoke anything,
  • wear anything on your head, unless for religious reasons,
  • leave the hearing - by putting down the phone or going away from the screen - unless the judge tells you to.
  • have anyone else in the room with you if it is a private hearing, unless you have permission from the judge. If you are in a video call hearing you may be asked to prove you are alone by showing the judge the whole room.

Key things to remember

  • If the hearing is by video make sure you put your microphone on mute, by clicking on the microphone image on the screen, when you are not talking.
  • Let others have their turn to speak - don’t interrupt. The judge will make sure you have a chance to speak.
  • Raise your hand to get the attention of the judge if you do need to say something. It can be hard to know when to speak, especially if it is a phone hearing. If it is a video call hearing raise your hand and wait to be invited to speak. If it is a telephone hearing wait for a pause and then ask politely to speak.
  • Ask for an explanation if you don’t understand something, especially if you are giving evidence.
  • make notes as you go along, so you can raise any points when it’s your turn to speak
  • Speak clearly, and if the hearing is by video, make sure you look directly to the camera on your screen.
  • Try to sit calmly and not fiddle, with your hair, for example. Remember that even if your microphone is off the other people can still see your body language and facial expressions.
  • Make sure you are polite to all the other people in the hearing, even if you are feeling stressed or upset. This is especially important if you need to interrupt to explain you have a technical issue or need a break.
  • Avoid any temptation to look at other things in the hearing like your messages or emails, as you are likely to miss something.
After the hearing

If you can manage it, it is a good idea to check over notes you may have made and tidy them up or even type them up so that you have a clear record what was said.

A still from the film

If possible, it can be helpful to have someone on hand at the end of the hearing to hear about what happened. This can help you digest things, work out what questions you may have and think about what you need to do next. 

If the court told you to do anything after the hearing, in preparation for the next one be sure to make a clear to do list and get stuck into it as soon as you can - things often take longer than you think.

Consider if you want to give feedback on your experience of your video or phone call hearing by doing a short survey - this will help HMCTS to improve the service HMCTS Telephone/Video Hearings (smartsurvey.co.uk)

Going to a court building during the Coronavirus pandemic

If you do have a hearing that goes ahead at a court building it may not be in the court building you have been to before or that is nearest to you. It may even be held in a building that isn’t usually used as a court building, such as an office or even a church! The court will contact you to tell you about where you need to go. You can also use the Courts and Tribunals finder service to check up to date details on the court you are due to go to.  

If you are told by court staff that your hearing is going to take place in a court building you will find it looks different to how it might have done before. To make it as safe as possible there will be limits on how many people can be in the court building at one time and you will need to keep as much distance as possible between you and everyone else there in the waiting room and in the hearing itself. You will need to wear a face mask or covering unless you have a valid reason not to. In the actual hearing room the judge may ask you to take off your face mask, for example if you need to give evidence.

If you would like to see how it might be at your local court when you go, you can take a look at some videos made by the court service to explain the new measures to keep people safe. You can also find useful information about what to expect when you go to a court or tribunal hearing on the GOV.UK website. 

In some cases the Judge might decide that most of the people involved can do the hearing by phone or video but others involved need to go to the court building to join in properly. This way, the numbers of people at the court building are reduced but the people that need the equipment or privacy and space at court can access it. These new types of hearings are being called ‘hybrid hearings’.

Hearings by phone or video in the family court

The Transparency Project has written a detailed guide on what to expect if you are involved in a family case and the hearing has to take place by phone or video.

Domestic abuse

If you have suffered domestic abuse and the person you say abused you, known as the alleged perpetrator, is involved in the case, the court must take extra steps to protect you through the process.

The court should ask you your views on what type of hearing would feel safer to you. Some people who have suffered domestic abuse prefer to have a hearing by phone or video call but others feel this enables the alleged perpetrator to see inside their personal space, making their home feel less safe.

The court will keep your email and mobile number private. The court should make sure that you are never left alone with the alleged perpetrator, be that in a court room, on a telephone line or in a video call.

If the hearing goes ahead with you joining by video or phone call, the court should explain to you how to blur your background to make it more neutral. Another option is to make your background as neutral as possible by moving things out of the view of the camera. You may be allowed to turn off your video or join by phone only so that the alleged perpetrator cannot see you. Another option is for the alleged perpetrator to be asked to join by phone only or turn off their camera.

It can be very helpful to have someone with you during your hearing, especially if you don’t have a lawyer. If possible, ask someone to support you and make sure the judge approves this, either beforehand or just at the very start of the hearing. See the section Preparing for a hearing by phone or video for more information on this.

If possible, it can be helpful to have someone on hand at the end of the hearing to hear about what happened, offer you support or help out with childcare, if needed.

Hearings by phone or video at the social security tribunal (benefits)

Benefit appeal hearings are largely happening as phone hearings, but may also be by video hearings in the future. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, you may be given a preliminary view by a judge who hasn’t had a chance to speak to you but, based on the papers alone, has decided you are entitled to a higher award. If they offer you the award you were hoping for, accept it. If the DWP do too, it will become the tribunal’s decision and will save you the stress and bother of having a hearing over the telephone or by video.

But if you think you should get a higher award, think carefully. If you don’t accept it, you will be offered a telephone or video hearing where the tribunal will be able to ask you questions and hear your answers. This may result in a better award. If you choose to reject the preliminary view, ask for an urgent hearing.

Skills that will help you through your hearing

Remember!

  • Don’t interrupt
  • Don’t get angry or aggressive
  • Don’t swear or shout

If you do not have a lawyer to manage your case, you need to do it yourself. This means dealing with paperwork from the other side and the court and in some cases other people such as a social worker or an expert. You will also need to prepare your case for your hearing and represent yourself at your hearing.

Get organised! 

  • Keep your papers neat and tidy so you don’t lose important paperwork. For example, you could have a file for court documents and another for letters, emails and telephone call notes.
  • Keep copies of all letters or emails you send, in your file.
  • Keep a record of any telephone calls you have – record the name of the person you spoke to, the date and time, and what was said by you and them.
  • Make sure you reply promptly to letters, emails, and requests from the other side and the court.
  • Give the court and the other side as much notice as possible about what you plan to do, for example, make a new application.
  • If you send anything to the court, you always need to send a copy to the other side as well. Keep a copy for yourself too! Make sure you do this as soon as you can, rather than at the last minute.
  • Make sure you stick to all dates and deadlines. If you have a good reason as to why you can’t, make sure you tell the court and the other side this before the deadline and ask for an extension.

Preparing your case

  • Whatever the legal issue in your case, you need to try and look at your case from every angle. This can be very hard to do. But, this is what the judge will do. It will help you a lot if you can see the strengths and weaknesses of your case before you are put on the spot at court. If you can see the weaknesses in your case that might help you to see where to compromise when you are at court. The judge will expect you to have thought about how to compromise. If you can’t resolve things by agreement, then the judge will make a final decision that you will have to accept.
  • To look at your case from every angle you need time. Make sure you put time aside to get some legal advice before your hearing. If you can’t afford to see a solicitor for early legal advice there are other places you can go to that might be able to give you some initial legal advice for free. To start with, choose between Going to the family court, Going to a civil court, or Going to a tribunal and then click on the Legal Advice box at the bottom of the page.
  • Make notes about your case before the hearing so you are clear on what you want to say. It is best to do these as bullet points rather than like an essay as it is unlikely the judge will let you read out something really long. You need notes on what you think is most important - what you don’t agree on with the other side. You might find it useful to make a list of key dates and events in the order that they happened so that you can find important information quickly. Plan to make your most important points first, in case you run out of time.
  • Check the order you should already have for details about the hearing. Every time there is a hearing, the court should give everyone an idea about how long it will take. This is called a ‘time estimate’. It might say, 30 minutes for example. This does not mean your hearing will be finished in 30 minutes though. It may take longer.
  • Be aware that if the time estimate is short, for example 30 minutes, it is very unlikely there will be time for you to tell the judge lots about your case. If the time estimate is much longer, for example one day or more, then it is highly likely you will be giving evidence to the court and the court will expect you to be ready to ask the other side questions.

Getting ready for your hearing

Practicalities

  • Prepare some notes about what you want to say.
  • Be sure to have pens and paper to make notes of what happens at the hearing, what they say about what will happen after the hearing, and what you need to do and when.
  • If there is a court bundle make sure you have a copy. A court bundle is a file, or several files, of paperwork all about a case that is used by everyone at court, including the judge. Usually the person who applies to court has to arrange the bundles. But, if that is you the court might order that the other side has to do it or even that the court staff have to do it. If there is no bundle make sure you have your file of paperwork and that it is tidy, so you can find the documents you need find quickly.
  • Don’t worry about what to wear. Just try and wear something comfortable, clean and tidy.

During your hearing

  • You cannot use your phone during the hearing, to take photos or to record the hearing.
  • Try and stay calm and polite – even when you don’t feel it!
  • Don’t shout or swear – even if you feel frustrated or hard done by. It will not help you get your points across or let everyone, including the judge, see you in your best light.
  • The only people who have the right to speak to the judge are the parties or their lawyers. So if the other side has a lawyer, they will speak to the judge. The only time the actual person on the other side to your case will speak is if the judge asks them a question directly or when they are giving evidence. We explain more about evidence later.
  • What to call the judge depends on the type of the judge and the court you are in. Try not to worry too much about this. When you are representing yourself it is usual for the lawyer on the other side to speak first, even if it is your application. You can copy what they call the judge or if not, just be polite and respectful, for example by using ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.
  • Listen carefully so that you are ready to answer any questions.
  • If you don’t understand a question ask them politely to repeat the question or to ask it in a different way.
  • Don’t interrupt other people when they are speaking - the judge or magistrates will make sure you get a turn to speak. Just raise your hand, so the judge can see you have something to say, and wait.
  • Don’t try to use legal language - just speak clearly and slowly with brief, to-the-point answers.
  • When you do speak make sure you speak to and look at the judge.
  • Ask for extra time if you are being asked to make an important decision or look at new evidence. Or if you are becoming upset.
Getting legal advice from a lawyer

You are probably reading this guide because you really cannot afford to pay a lawyer at all. If that is the case, we hope that this guide has helped you feel better prepared for your hearing. Remember there is a lot of useful information on the Advicenow website - start by choosing from one of these three options:

Going to the family court

Going to a civil court

Going to a tribunal

If you have read through the guide and now think you might be able to find some money to pay a lawyer for some legal advice it is often a good idea to get it early on so that you can work out what to do next before making any big decisions. Or, if you are nearing the end of your case it might be a good idea to spend whatever money you do have on getting a lawyer to represent you at an important hearing.

Depending on the type of case and your financial situation you may be able to get legal aid. Take a look at Getting help to pay for legal advice for a civil (non-criminal) case or, if your case is to do with a family problem, take a look at How to get legal aid for a family problem for more information on getting legal aid.

You need to think about how to find a good solicitor. Or, depending on your case you may be able to instruct a barrister without a solicitor. You can search for solicitors on the Law Society website or on the Gov.uk website.

If you are interested in going direct to a barrister it is important to understand that only certain barristers are trained to work directly with people involved in a court case (rather than with a solicitor as well). Barristers who do work directly with the public can help you with various different bits of your case. For example, they can give you specialist legal advice, help you to prepare court documents or represent you at court. You cannot get legal aid to pay for a barrister’s work done through the Direct Access Portal. You can read more about how the Direct Access Portal works on the Bar Council website.

To understand more about what different types of lawyers do, take a look at A survival guide to going to court when the other side has a lawyer and you don’t.

Our top tips for finding a lawyer

  • Shop around - the fees lawyers charge vary from firm to firm
  • Make sure the lawyer you use is qualified (as a solicitor, legal executive or barrister) and is a specialist in the area of law you need help with. You can do this by looking at their website and by asking them questions about how often they deal with your sort of problem.
  • Be clear about what you have to pay and when - some lawyers do pieces of work for a set price. This is often called ‘fixed fee work’.
  • Try and choose a firm of solicitors that have the Law Society Lexcel quality mark. This means the Law Society has given the firm an award to say the firm gives clients a good service.
  • If you are on a tight budget then make sure you only use your lawyer’s time when you really need it. Making sure you are well prepared and organised for each time you speak or see your lawyer will keep the costs down. For more helpful tips on seeing a lawyer take a look at How to prepare for seeing a solicitor or adviser
About this guide

Disclaimer

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales and is for general purposes only. The law may be different if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The law is complicated. We have simplified things in the guide to give you an idea of how the law applies to you. Please don't rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law. We recommend you try and get advice from the sources we have suggested.  

The quotes and cases we refer to are not always real but show a typical situation. We hope they help you think about how to deal with your own situation.

Acknowledgements

This guide was written, produced and updated by Advicenow with funding from the Litigant in Person Support Strategy.

Advicenow would like to thank all those who provided feedback and advice on this guide, particularly Natalia Schiffrin, Paul Bryson, Jeremy Thompson, and Jess Mant. 

Published March 2021 
Updated June 2021 

Can you help us?  

We hope you found this guide useful.  Can you support this guide with a donation?  To donate just go to www.advicenow.org.uk/donate. 

We are always trying to improve our service. If you have any comments on what you like or don't like about this guide please go to www.advicenow.org.uk/feedback

If you would like this guide in another format please email guides@lawforlife.org.uk

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