Court and tribunal hearings by video or phone call
During the Covid pandemic, court and tribunal hearings took place by video or phone call. These types of hearings are often called ‘remote’ hearings. Now that restrictions have eased, many hearings are taking in place in traditional court buildings again. However, some hearings will continue to take place by video or phone call. This guide will help you understand more about these types of hearings and what you need to do if the court tells you that your hearing will take place by video or phone. It also has useful information on how to prepare and manage your case if you don’t have a lawyer to help you.
Court and tribunal hearings by video or phone call
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:
Now that Covid-19 restrictions have eased, many hearings are face-to-face again. However, some hearings will continue to take place by video or phone call. This guide will help you understand more about these types of hearings and how to prepare, if you are told by the court that your hearing will be by video or phone call.
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.
Can you spare a few minutes?
We would be grateful if you could tell us what you think of this information by completing our Feedback survey. We will use your feedback to seek funding and improve our guides and make sure they are as helpful as possible.
How to know if your hearing will be held by phone or video call
The judge dealing with your case will decide if it is suitable for a video or phone call hearing.
There are different ways the court may tell you the judge’s decision.
The details on how the hearing will take place may be in the court paperwork you get from the court by post. This document is called a Notice of hearing.
The court may email you separately to tell you, or,
The court may call you.
If you read in the court paperwork that the hearing will take place via BT meet me, or BTMM, this means it will be a telephone hearing. BT meet me (or BTMM) is the telephone service from BT that the court often uses for telephone hearings.
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 - for example, by you going to a court building while other people involved join by video or phone call.
What to do if you get ill just before your hearing
If you get Covid around the time of your hearing and feel you are too ill to take part in your hearing you need to contact the court straight away. You can find out how to do this by going to Courts and tribunals: living with Covid-19
What you need to take part in a hearing by phone or video call
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 good 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 you are not sure that the court has 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 video or phone call
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 and spam folders 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.
If the court tells you the hearing will be by phone, make sure you call the court straight away to check that they have the correct telephone number for you.
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 also made a helpful video about hearings via video call. There is also a version with British Sign Language and subtitles in English, Welsh, Bangla, Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu.
If you have a video call hearing, there are two different systems, or ‘platforms’, that the court can use for the hearing. The court will tell you which one you will need to use.
Cloud Video Platform
You might hear people talking about a CVP hearing. This is short for Cloud Video Platform and is the court service’s system for running secure video hearings. There is a guide called How to join Cloud Video Platform for a video hearing to help you understand how it works so that you are well prepared by the day of your hearing.
Help with technical problems - CVP
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 Friday.
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.
It is a good idea to read the guide for your type of video hearing 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.
When you get the information from the court about your video hearing, it is really important to follow the instructions as soon as possible on:
which internet browser to use, and,
how to test your equipment.
You then need to test your equipment, before the hearing to make sure it works properly. That way, if you have any problems you will have time to get in touch with the court to let them know.
Paperwork for the hearing
In most hearings there will be important documents that the judge, and other people involved, will look at. Lawyers call these papers the court ‘bundle’. This just means a file of papers that everyone involved in the case, including the judge, can see. You need to make sure you can see these too, before and during the hearing.
The court may send these documents to you in electronic form, by email. If this happens you will need to have a way to see these documents whilst in the hearing, such as on another computer screen. If this isn’t possible and you don’t have a lawyer, you can ask the court to send you a printed copy. Ideally, you should have all the documents you need a good few days before the hearing, so that you can read them carefully. If you aren’t sure you have what you need, contact the court - using the contact information on any letters or emails you have received - to make sure you get it in good time.
Just before your hearing
The evening before your hearing make sure you have everything ready. Get all the court paperwork together and read through it. Think about what you want to say in the hearing. Think about the outcome you hope to get. Write down anything you don’t understand and need the judge to explain. Write down what you don’t agree with or would like to change. For more help on preparing for hearings go to the section called Skills that will help you through your hearing.
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, 9.30am - 4.30pm, 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
Make sure you are ready at least 20 - 30 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 - by other people and children, the door bell, or pets! 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 have good and reliable 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,
make sure your face and shoulders 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 you will need this near you so you can look at it during the hearing. You might have this in a printed 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. The telephone number for the court where the judge is hearing the case should be on paperwork that you will have received from the court. If you can’t find it, you can find the telephone number by searching for the court via find a court or tribunal.
If you do have to call the court, try to use a different phone line, if at all possible, so that if the court is trying to reach you at the same time they will be able to get through.
Help with technical problems
It is really important get help as soon as possible if you come across any technical problems so they can be sorted out quickly.
Hearings via Cloud Video Platform
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
Hearings is via the new Video Hearings service
If you have problems with sorting out the technology to take part you can get help from the new Video Hearings service team by phone: 0300 303 0655
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm (except public holidays)
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 technical support.
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,
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.
Things the judge will do
The judge will help you by:
explaining what to do if you have any technical problems,
checking you are in a quiet private space and that no one else is there, unless they give you permission to have someone there to support you,
explaining when you will get a turn to speak,
making time for everyone to have breaks when needed, and,
guiding everyone through the hearing until the end.
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 of what was said.
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 things 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.
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.
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 why you can’t, make sure you tell the court and the other side your reason 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 in 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.
You should already have an order with the details of the hearing. Go over it before 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
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.
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. If there is a court bundle make sure you have a copy. 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, if they have a lawyer to represent them, 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
Don’t get angry or aggressive
Don’t swear or shout
You can only use your phone to take part in the hearing. You must not use it to take photos or videos, 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 someone asks you a question you don’t understand, 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.
Hearings by phone or video at the social security tribunal (benefits)
Appeal hearings are now often held over video. If you are concerned that you will not be able to access or manage a video hearing properly, or if it will make you more anxious, you can ask for a face-to-face hearing.
During Covid HMCTS piloted a streamlined process that allowed cases to be looked at by a judge sitting alone. If the judge could see from the evidence already received that the appellant was entitled to a higher award, they offered a preliminary decision. Both the claimant and the DWP were asked if they accept the preliminary decision. If either did not, the case continued to an appeal hearing. If both did accept the preliminary decision, the award was changed straight away. At the time of writing, it is not clear if this process will continue. If you are offered a preliminary decision by the HMCTS, only accept it if you think it is the correct award. If you think you might be entitled to more, ask for an appeal hearing.
Hearings by phone or video at the employment tribunal
If you are involved in an employment tribunal hearing you can take a look at the court service’s helpful video on video hearings in the employment tribunal. There is also a version with British Sign Language and subtitles in English, Welsh, Bangla, Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu.
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 for 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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Can you help us?
We hope you found this guide useful. Can you support this guide with a donation? To donate just go to our Donate page.
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 our Feedback page.