Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day
Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way
Oh Monday mornin’ you gave me no warnin’ of what was to be
Oh Monday, Monday, how could you leave and not take me?
-The Mamas and the Papas
Today, I sat at my desk and at 9.55am promptly logged onto the Cloud Video Platform, to undertake a Costs and Case Management Conference in a personal injury claim worth £2.5 million. I had spoken to my instructing solicitor and my opponent by telephone beforehand.
A bundle and supplementary bundle of late material had been prepared, and received by the court. The judge worked efficiently through the directions and costs budgeting. By 12 noon, the hearing was complete, I spoke to my instructing solicitor and opponent by telephone, drew a draft order and the work was essentially done. My opponent was in Manchester, I was in Nottinghamshire and the judge was in Essex. And it worked brilliantly.
Contrast this case with last Monday’s experience.
My credit hire trial was listed in the Worthing County Court: and on a face to face or in person basis. So on Sunday evening, as I have done for so many years, I threw my bags into the back of my car, and motored 200 miles south, to ensure that I was present bright and early at court on Monday morning. Over the years gone by, I have wished the Premier Inn would do a loyalty card: I would be in the platinum level by now I suspect.
The first problem that materialised, was that whilst I had assiduously prepared a skeleton argument and a 300 page bundle of authorities, which was served on the Friday, it had not reached the court. I think it went to Hastings, where doubtless it is rotting in someone’s inbox: certainly it never reached Worthing, which is why I had taken the precaution of bringing hard copies of everything, knowing this was likely to happen.
The second problem was that two other trials were listed to start at 10am before the same judge. Mine was third in the list: the judge decided to run in list order, and so I was told “not before 2pm”. There are few environments more bleak than an English seaside town in winter, and when my long suffering client and I gladly returned for 2pm, we were told “not before 3pm” as the other trial, second in the list, had not then concluded.
And so at 3pm, as was always going to be the case, obvious to anyone on Friday, when the list was compiled, we were adjourned without being heard, and the case has gone back into the loop, to be heard perhaps 6 months from now.
What nonsense. What a shameful waste of professional time. Why-oh-why can’t the nettle be grasped, that all Fast Track cases, should be conducted by remote means, as can all interlocutory hearings lasting less than a day, and much time and money saved?
My own experience tells me that remote hearings for credit hire trials work brilliantly, notwithstanding the current shortcomings, which could be removed or mitigated at relatively little cost, so that they work even better.
Here is my list of things that the court service should be doing:
1. Accept that of all the remote applications, such as Zoom, Teams etc, CVP is the runt of the litter. It is always buggy and the sound quality is markedly inferior to Teams. Throw it out on the pile of rejected, pointless public sector projects such as the Blue Streak missile (quite) and buy a commercial application.
2. Fix the courts wi-fi. In my house, the wi-fi has been souped up, so that 4 video conferences can take place simultaneously, without loss of signal strength. If it falls below that, BT, give me my money back. The court’s wi-fi is often spotty.
3. Get the judges proper kit. Smart laptops. A decent workstation. At a hearing the week before last the judge was using a video screen mounted on high, suitable for bail hearings in a magistrates court, but at risk of his posture and musculo-skeletal health. Get them more than 1 screen: you need 2.
4. Train the judges in how to use the kit. They haven’t had training. Some are technological wunderkind, but others need a knowledge base. They tend to be clever people: they will pick it up.
5. To justify this investment, promulgate a Practice Direction that all Fast Track trials and interlocutory hearings of less than 1 day, will by default be remote, unless in the interests of justice it is necessary they be in person hearings.
Will any of this happen? Not soon enough. In the meantime, whether the trial is in person or remote, I encourage pre-hearing conferences remotely with clients, a day or 2 before the hearing. Its just so efficient.
Here’s another thought: why trust the court system and at all, and why not go private? Once a claim has been issued, directions made, and complied with, and you’re simply waiting for a hearing date, why not use that hearing fee to pay for a remote arbitral hearing under the Arbitration Act 1996, before a barrister who is enthusiastic about credit hire, who will get the law “right”, who will do the case remotely, facilitate a coffee break at 11.30 and won’t list three cases in his docket on a Monday morning in winter?