I was recently an expert witness in a trial that became a virtual trial using the Court Service video platform a browser based conferencing platform. While not wishing to discuss the details of the case I have some observations on the whole experience.
The use of the particular platform changed from one I had used previously to the court platform just before the trial commenced so there was no way of logging in to checked that the technology worked. The alternative one I had used before and knew how to set up my workstation for it.
The trial bundle was delivered in electronic format and within it some of there documents were duplicated. I had decided to use the electronic version rather than print out hundreds of pages but spent some time reading though it especially my own report and the joint statement.
I had also read Andrew King’s excellent e-book on tips for the virtual workspace about the whole set up and had over the time since the start of the pandemic gradually refined my own workspace using other meeting via video-conferencing to streamline the area.
I had the distinct advantage that I had a wired internet connection to my router and that I had a reasonably fast internet connection. I also made sure that during the court hours others in the house did not use the internet for down loads etc to throttle my bandwidth.
I was easily able to follow the joining instructions but the system would not recognise my microphone so initially I could not be heard in court ( thankfully the was before proceedings commenced). I eventually changed my set up to another computer ( having always had a backup plan ) which joined successfully although on the first day I was only listening and not giving evidence. On the second day my main computer worked without problem so I still don’t know why it would not on the first day.
The judge was clear in the introduction that recording of proceedings was not allowed and that unless you were being the witness examined by the court you should turn off your video and microphone.
With the benefit of hindsight I should have marked up the bundle with divisions so I could move through it easily but worked out the offset between the page numbers in the document and those on my pdf reader so learnt how to move through easier. This was also the advantage of being “present” on the day without giving evidence.
Keeping the solicitor informed when others were giving evidence
The solicitor had set up a WhatsApp group for experts and lawyers to communicate but removed me from it while I was giving evidence (I also turned my phone off during that period).
Addressing the court
As I had a setup that used a teleprompter in front of my camera with a monitor reflecting the court onto it. This meant that I was looking at the camera and the judge directly when giving evidence rather than trying to look at a monitor offset from the camera which can look that you are avoiding contact with the camera.
During the examination of my evidence even with good internet links there is a delay on the video and audio. This means that it is easy unless you leave a pause before starting an answer you may talk over the barrister asking the questions. Even although it can appear a long pause it is important to leave it.
It was clear from observing the court proceedings that some of those on camera had more experience both of the technical challenges that arise in the virtual environment and simply using video for communication. I consider that having had to use video conferencing for professional meetings I encountered fewer problems with giving my evidence.
Having attended some training courses on giving evidence where one is told to face and address the judge having the examining barrister on the same screen beside the judge meant that rather than not being able to see any of their mannerisms as facing the judge in a conventional hearing means that the advocate is usually only in ones peripheral vision. This could be slightly disconcerting on the flow on ones answers but if one accepts it and concentrate on the judge the distraction can be minimised.
Overall I found the experience a good one especially not having to travel and stay in hotels for the period of the trial.
Whether after the pandemic is contained there is complete return to in-person trials is unknown but I certainly would not be worried by the continuation of giving evidence remotely.