Guidance for defence practitioners when participating in video enabled criminal hearings.
All video enabled criminal hearings will be hosted using Cloud Video Platform (CVP), which allows participants to appear in court remotely by video link using laptops, tablets, and other internet enabled devices. Video enabled hearings are being held to enable courts to continue functioning during the coronavirus outbreak.
The following people will be in the courtroom:
- legal advisers
- court associates
- other essential court staff
The following people may join by video link but will need to seek the court’s permission before the hearing:
- defence solicitors
- liaison and diversion
- youth offending teams
People seeking permission to attend remotely need to make their application as soon as possible before the hearing. For certain types of cases – such as overnight remand courts – the application can be made in an email or directly to the court before the start of the court list.
The court retains the option to require participants’ physical attendance if necessary.
The defendant is assessed in police custody for suitability to take part in a video hearing. The court will then make directions in relation to any future hearings, should the defendant remain in custody. It is likely that a video hearing will be the more appropriate method of dealing with a defendant, but this is always subject to judicial discretion.
Courts will make a live link direction at the start of the day. Judicial discretion to rescind a live link direction is not affected by the emergency legislation.
Read more information on joining a hearing by BT Meet Me, Cloud Video Platform (CVP) or Skype and how to join a CVP hearing during the coronavirus outbreak.
Members of the public can still attend the physical courtroom but they must observe social distancing rules.
Open justice is a fundamental principle in our courts and tribunals system. Requests from the media and others to observe a hearing remotely should be made to the court in advance to allow for inclusion during the hearing set-up. Please contact the court. This is not available for criminal jury trials in the Crown court.
Before the hearing
Listing of court hearings is a judicial function and the judiciary will have agreed the local listing arrangement. Consideration will be given to priority listing for the following categories:
- hearings with time limits that are about to expire
- vulnerable defendants including youths
- defendants on remand, awaiting sentence
We will consider specific requests and accommodate these where possible in consultation with other agencies and the judiciary, according to priority.
Defence practitioner’s responsibilities for video remand hearings (defendant in police custody)
The court will have a nominated email address for Court Video Platform work. We expect solicitors, including the allocated court duty solicitor, to email the court via this address by 8am to provide:
- their name and the name of the defendant they are representing
- their full contact details (including a direct telephone/mobile number)
Please ensure you have obtained the address of the nominated CVP mailbox from the court.
Decisions to use video links must be made in the interests of justice, and respect the statutory framework: in particular, any participation by video link continues to require a direction from the court. The process for applying for and receiving directions remains straightforward. Where appearances by video link are expected an application can be made and direction given at the beginning of the hearing, applying the broad “interests of justice” test.
Speaking with your client in a police station
You will be given time prior to the hearing to consult with your client: this will need to be a telephone call with the custody suite.
The Court Video Operator will share your details with the police custody suite who will then contact you directly to make the arrangements for you to have your consultation by telephone.
Attending court as the duty solicitor for overnight custody cases
You can attend by video link like any other participant. Once you have introduced yourself to the nominated Court Video Platform mailbox you will receive a link and instructions by email.
Knowing who in the cells needs a solicitor
The expectation is that during the interview a police station duty solicitor or personal solicitor will have been involved. This means that the police custody suite will have filled in your details on a spreadsheet, together with the defendant details, and will have sent this to the Court Video Operator. The Court Video Operator will contact you if you have not already made contact through the nominated Court Video Platform email address.
Contacting your client in a court cell
Defence practitioners first need to contact the court in the to find out how they can speak to clients in court cells. In some courts, it is possible to speak to clients by telephone. Where this is possible, defence practitioners will be able to contact the custody suite and book a consultation slot of 15 minutes. Where this is not possible, defence practitioners will need to physically come to court and speak to clients in the custody suite.
Where clients are in court custody suites with interview rooms which have toughened glass partitions, defence representatives can also choose to attend physically to discuss legal matters with them.
The Court Custody Manager will control visitor numbers to ensure that social distancing guidelines can be met.
Defendant consultation in a prison
The prison will assume responsibility for booking non-court hearing bookings for probation, defence practitioners and parole board with defendants in prison.
Contact the prison’s Family Visits Booking Team by telephone on 0121 368 0710. Choose option 1: provide prisoner details, the date, the time of your booking and your contact details.
Alternatively, you can send details by email. Provide the prisoner details and your preferred time slot with two alternative choices and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When a hearing is listed, the prison will automatically allocate a pre and post hearing consultation. The prison will arrange and manage these consultations. You will find video links for these in DCS.
Receiving a hearing notification
We expect each participant to provide their role and contact details to the court using the nominated Cloud Video Platform email address. (Your contact details must include monitored email addresses and telephone numbers.)
HMCTS will then send a return email containing a link to the hearing, along with guidance on how to join and a contact email address and telephone number.
The contact details of other relevant participants (as known at that time) will be shared as part of the return email.
Unless the defendant is representing themselves, the defence advocate will access the hearing notification in the digital case system (DCS).
HMCTS will upload the hearing notification to DCS. This will also include details of the pre and post hearing consultations arranged by the prison for the defence advocate and their client.
For participants who cannot access DCS, HMCTS will send an email including details of the allocated time slot for each scheduled hearing, and a link to access it. You will also receive guidance on how to connect to the hearing.
Tablet and smart phone app users will need to use the @meet.video.justice.gov.uk email address sent to them. Enter it into the connection field of the app.
The contact details of participants (as known at that time) will be shared as part of the email notification. We need each party to provide their preferred contact details to the court. These must include a monitored email address and telephone number.
Where a defendant is unrepresented and on bail, their contact details will be masked by sending the invitation BCC (blind copy).
During the hearing
In confidence discussions during the hearing
Please take full instructions from your client before the hearing. On the rare occasion that it is necessary to take further instructions, the hearing will be suspended while you talk to your client in private.
Talking in private to a prosecutor
HMCTS will make sure you have the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutor’s phone number or email. If you want to talk to them privately before the hearing you can call them. Make sure both your connections to the video hearing are on mute if your discussion with Crown Prosecution Service is confidential.
Clients who need an interpreter
In a magistrates’ court, the interpreter will be booked by the police. In a Crown court, the interpreter will be booked by HMCTS. The expectation is that the interpreter will appear by video, but may attend the police custody suite or court building.
HMCTS will receive email notification that a booking with translation services has been made. The Court Video Operator will send the interpreter details on how to join the hearing.
Additional information available mid hearing
This will be managed the same as in any other hearing. If the hearing circumstances change significantly, then you can ask for a pause in the hearing, or an adjournment. You can then talk to Crown Prosecution Service or probation on the telephone in private.
Other people attending the hearing
The physical court room will be open. Victims who wish to attend the court can do so. Parents, guardians or appropriate adults of young people who are defendants can also attend the court building.
Hearing expectations and changes you might experience
The court expects hearings to be progressed in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Rules. This includes taking a plea, conducting case management and sentencing as appropriate.
Each participant in the physical court room should remain seated behind the microphone during the hearing to ensure all participants can hear.
You may find that the hearing will need to be managed more formally. For example, each participant may require introduction before they speak.
Each stage of the hearing might need to be identified as you progress through it. Longer gaps may be introduced between each participant as they speak.
You will encounter some hearings where there are audio delays – please avoid interrupting or talking over people.
Sharing case materials
Normal processes will continue unless this is not possible: in magistrates’ courts, case materials are sent to relevant participants by secure email. In Crown courts they are available in DCS.
During the hearing, documents can be shared on screen. Users cannot share documents through Apple’s Safari browser. You will need to use another web browser such as Google Chrome. When you share documents, make sure that these are clean copies and do not have any annotations.
The Court Video Operator will share the contact details provided by professional participants as part of the hearing notification from HMCTS. This will allow professionals to carry out any necessary professional conversations before the hearing.
The police will manage defendant consultations for solicitors, probation, youth offending teams. Due to social distancing requirements we expect these consultations will be conducted by telephone.
After the hearing
Talking to your client after the hearing
If you need to talk to your client after the hearings make sure your client is aware of this before they are released.
If remanded to custody, please alert the detention officer while they are appearing over the link before your client is taken to the custody cells. They will arrange to call you back over the telephone so that you can carry out the consultation.
The court expects to do a full first hearing including case management where a Not Guilty plea is entered. Currently, although trial dates are being set, these will be subject to change as we increase our capability to undertake hearings while respecting social distancing. Subsequent interlocutory hearings may be on video.
Defence practitioner daily checklist
If you are attending court, please see the usher at the earliest convenient time to inform them which defendant you are representing and give them your contact telephone number and email address.
If you are attending the hearing by video link, please email the nominated CVP email address with details of the defendant you are representing together with your contact telephone number: this will be shared with the police so that they can call you to arrange your consultation with your client.
You will receive details by email of how to join the video hearing (if working remotely).
The Court Video Operator will contact you regarding your client telephone conference including when the video hearing will start.
Please contact the Court Video Platform helpline on 0330 808 9405 (Monday to Thursday: 9am to 5pm, Friday: 9am to 4pm, Saturdays and bank holidays: 8am to 2pm.)
Prison to court video links in magistrates’ courts
We are beginning to roll out the use of CVP for Prison to Court Video Links (PCVL) in Magistrates’ Courts. Prisons currently using this procedure are:
- HMP Doncaster
- HMP Durham
- High Down
- HMP Hull
- HMP Leeds
- Wormwood Scrubs
Two working days before the hearing, the relevant defence firm will receive an email from the court confirming the hearing time and requesting the name of the defence advocate.
To meet these prisons’ security requirements, defence advocates need to provide their names (or up to 3 names to allow flexibility) by 2pm the day before any confidential consultation with a client.
If you do not provide the name(s) in advance, you risk not being able to communicate with your client before the hearing.
On the day of the client consultation, you will need to show two forms of appropriate identification to prison staff. These must include:
- either a photo identity card – for example, one issued by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) or a legal firm/chambers for defence practitioners – this includes Bar Council Professional Access Digital Cards
- or an introductory letter on headed paper for the firm/chambers plus a passport or photo driving licence
You can choose to show physical copies of these documents using your device camera, or you can share your screen using CVP if you have digital versions of the documents.
Please make sure you connect for your consultations and hearings on time. Notify the court video host if you are unable to do this.
Time slots provided by these prisons for pre-court consultations have been extended so that defence practitioners can show the necessary identification to prison staff.