Lawyers want virtual hearings in court during coronavirus pandemic

Chamber of Advocates want virtual hearings that can allow courts to function with zero risk to health

The Chamber of Advocates has called on Malta’s courts to adopt virtual hearings to ensure zero risk to the health of all stakeholders involved.

“Virtual hearings, if developed further, could also bring about longer term benefits to the efficiency of the system,” the Chamber said.

The study was issued as a follow up to a paper published by the chamber in April, which looked at how courts can start functioning with modern technology and avoiding the physical re-opening of court.

On 4 May, courts reopened after closing down to limit the spread of COVID-19.

With their reopening, the court administration introduced a number of measures to limit the contagion, with glass has being installed on all desks within the registry and hand sanitizer installed at a number of strategic places.

Despite the measures, the chamber said that a return to normality is “a daunting prospect”, stating lawyers should be full safeguarded when working at court.

“The Chamber will have to insist on a detailed risk assessment of the court building and the individual halls and court rooms before lawyers will go back to their normal duties in court, and to be consulted in process of drawing up that risk assessment,” it said.

An alternative to the traditional system can be found in virtual hearings according to the chamber.

“If developed further, virtual hearings could also bring about long term benefits to the efficiency of the system,” it said.

The chamber acknowledged the introduction of the new system might pose challenges, but insisted various stakeholders are willing to embrace that change.

“The legal profession is prepared to face the challenge, and to co-operate and collaborate with all other stakeholders with a view to enable the remote functioning of our courts,” the study read.

Discussions have been held with the judiciary, with a significant number open to the idea of remote hearings.

The introduction of new systems would also allow for the revamping of old industry practices.

“Most of which, if one were simply to focus on them, really need to change anyway because in a 21st century society they are simply out-dated and no longer fit for purpose,” it said.

The chamber insisted on making a positive out of pandemic.

This where we now need to learn from the experience and rise to the occasion in meeting the challenge by being bold enough to take the next steps and evolve.

Crucial to introducing the change is having all stakeholders involved in the process, the chamber said.

“A consultative process will allow the development of new working practices to stand a chance, the willingness to accept the horizons that technology has opened up in a system as conservative as the one we belong to,” it concluded.

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