What to expect from a remote Tribunal hearing
21 January 2021
As we covered in our previous article here, the current situation has forced the Employment Tribunal system to postpone many of the hearings that had been listed. In order to prevent the already huge backlog from becoming even more overwhelming, online hearings have been taking place for several months now. These had originally been in the pipeline for some time before Covid struck, but they are now well underway and are likely to become increasingly common. We examine what they involve, and what to expect if you become involved in a remote hearing.
The method of hearing for a particular case is still decided by each individual Employment Tribunal. Already most preliminary issues are being dealt with either by telephone or remotely. For substantive hearings there will still be some cases where the Tribunal may require a hearing to take place ‘in person’, although in the current situation there would normally need to be particular reasons for that. Alternatively, it may be possible for there to be a ‘hybrid’ hearing, where some participants attend the Tribunal building with the panel, while others attend remotely. However, in this article we are going to focus on the process for hearings that are fully remote, i.e., where all the participants are joining the hearing online only.
What setup is required for a remote hearing?
All participants in a remote hearing are required to confirm that they have a ‘stable internet connection and a computer with video and microphone’. If you have dodgy Wi-Fi at home, you will need to make sure you go somewhere where the signal is more reliable!
Ideally all participants, but especially witnesses, should be somewhere quiet where they are not likely to be interrupted. This may be particularly challenging at the moment when schools are closed! Most Tribunals are likely to be realistic about this – but it is best to make them aware of these sorts of issues at the earliest possible stage.
Just as they would in a traditional hearing, anyone who gives evidence in a remote hearing will need a clean, unmarked copy of the bundle to refer to (potentially an electronic copy – see below).
What technology is used?
The Tribunals use a system called Cloud Video Platform (CVP) which is a secure online video conferencing system. It can be accessed by most devices but works best when using Google Chrome on a Windows computer or Mac.
Email addresses for everyone who will be participating in the hearing will need to be provided to the Tribunal so that they can send the necessary access details.
The Tribunal recommend that all participants log in to CVP at least 10 minutes before the hearing is due to start, to check their settings. That is the minimum, but we recommend you check it much earlier – ideally at least a day beforehand, so that if any problems are identified there is enough time to get them fixed.
How do bundles work when a hearing is being conducted remotely?
This is a significant change from the previous arrangements. Traditionally the employer’s solicitor would be responsible for preparing paper copies of the bundle and bringing them to the hearing for use by the Tribunal panel and the witnesses. Clearly that would not work with a remote hearing, so specific rules have been introduced for electronic bundles. This includes the fact that they need to be supplied in pdf format and indexed electronically (including hyperlinks and bookmarking of key documents), as well as being searchable using optical character recognition (OCR).
Preparing a bundle that meets the new requirements is more involved and time-consuming than creating a traditional bundle. It will also be best to have a separate device to use for the bundle, rather than trying to use the same device you are using to access the hearing.
From a witness’s point of view, working with an electronic bundle will take some time to get used to, and it is important to factor this in when you are getting ready for a hearing. If you find it is a real struggle, then you could use a paper copy if necessary.
Etiquette – and practice
Remote hearings are inevitably different from those that are conducted ‘in person’. For example, body language and hand gestures are likely to be less visible, but small movements and facial expressions may be magnified.
As well as practising with the technology, it is a good idea to practice remote hearing etiquette beforehand. Much of it will probably be similar to what you have probably already been doing in virtual meetings – such as putting your microphone on mute when you are not speaking, turning off your notifications, and making sure you speak slowly and clearly.
Practicing will be a really important way to help you feel prepared, relaxed and confident on the day. We will be doing practice sessions for all our clients who will be involved in remote hearings. If you have a remote Tribunal hearing and would like us to help/advise, please do get in touch.
If you are an employer dealing with a remote hearing and need advice, then we can help. Please call us on 01243 836840 for a no obligation chat, or email us at [email protected].