Ailie McGowan, an Associate in Shoosmiths Scotland’s commercial dispute resolution team, shares her experience of a virtual civil court hearing in the sheriff court.
Since October 2019, pre-COVID-19, I have been arguing that the Scottish courts and our legal profession alike should embrace all the benefits of the digital age in order to achieve a fully functioning digitalised civil court system.
I therefore welcomed receipt of an email last week from Paisley Sheriff Court confirming that a debate, a hearing limited to legal arguments, in a civil court case in which Shoosmiths acts on behalf of the pursuer (claimant) would be proceeding by way of a virtual hearing.
This was the first civil court hearing in Paisley Sheriff Court to proceed by video link and I understand only the second civil court hearing to proceed by video link in all the sheriff courts in Scotland.
Prior to the hearing, parties assisted the court by providing them with bundles of documents and authorities which they intended to rely on. Both parties linked the index pages of their bundles to each individual document to ensure the digital documents could be easily accessed.
The day before the hearing, the court’s IT department set up a test hearing using the court’s new Cisco Webex video conferencing platform. After an initial teething problem in connecting to the courtroom, all issues were resolved.
On the morning of the hearing, a further test took place at 9am to confirm that all parties could access the platform. At 10am, the hearing proceeded.
Sheriff McCartney conducted the hearing from a courtroom in Paisley Sheriff Court and the parties were sitting in their respective offices. The two-hour hearing successfully took place without any technical difficulties and ran both smoothly and efficiently.
The sheriff court’s ability to conduct civil court hearings by way of video conference is a huge leap forward towards the Scottish courts being able to offer parties a fully functioning digitalised court system.
To conduct hearings in the same way will mean that parties who are currently embroiled in civil disputes will be able to progress their cases despite the current pandemic. However, the benefits of using video conferencing for civil disputes extends beyond the current situation. If the sheriff courts adopt video conferencing as the new normal for civil disputes this should create a more efficient court system and in turn reduce parties legal spend.
This is a welcome step forward and I eagerly await moves by other sheriff courts following Paisley Sheriff Court’s approach.