The conduct of virtual hearings has increased both in frequency and sophistication since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This has enabled parties to continue to have their cases resolved promptly and in line with their agreed timetable without losing the benefit of a full hearing. This is unlikely to be a short-term phenomenon. Regardless of whether limitations on physical distance and travel remain in the longer term, virtual hearings can offer a cost-effective and secure approach to ensure hearings are maintained and the process concluded in the anticipated time-frame.
Head of International Arbitration Philippa Charles chaired a webinar titled ‘Lights, Camera, Arbitration: Reflections and best practice from lockdown’ on 24 June with presentations from the International Arbitration Centre in London and Opus 2. The International Arbitration Centre and Opus 2 have together produced a hearing experience, which is designed to replicate the experience in a physical hearing room as closely as possible. The set up benefits from data security, full-time IT support and electronic document presentation to the witnesses and tribunal. The electronic bundle features an end-to-end set of links between the case bundle and documents, including hyperlinking of references to the pleadings or evidence into the transcript. It also displays a user’s notes when they access a document.
In the webinar, participants discussed both the practicalities of establishing a virtual hearing using Opus 2 and the IAC, and some of the more pervasive concerns and anxieties participants may have about undertaking a virtual hearing. This included whether or not it works (which it does) and what the rapid uptake of the technology means for shorter or interim hearings, or for the taking of evidence from witnesses who might otherwise need to travel. The panel discussed the use of protocols for hearing management, and some of the quirks of virtual hearing rooms in terms of perception in the “peripheral vision” of the parties, which is rather different in the virtual environment than in a physical venue.
“As the Covid-19 situation remains a moving target, there is no doubt that parties are looking to arbitrators and their counsel to advise them as to the use of virtual hearing processes. Where such a process is well-suited to their interests, there is no reason not to explore the use of a virtual hearing as long as it can give the parties a level playing field to present their cases, and there is sufficient time available to put the necessary technical support in place in advance of the hearing.”
A full recording of the webinar can be accessed here. Registration is required.
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