The technological push to transform and modernise the judicial sector has been hailed as a win for vulnerable people who may feel more comfortable giving evidence and testimonies via video links as opposed to appearing in the courtroom.
Domestic Abuse Victims
HM Courts & Tribunals Service confirmed on the 9th of May that video technology has been used in six cases where a domestic violence victim has made an injunction application against a partner.
These cases where specifically chosen to allow particularly vulnerable people the chance to appear before the court via a video link from their solicitor’s office. HMCTS claims that video hearings allowed these victims’ application to be heard more quickly, as well as saving them the time and stress of traveling to court and appearing in the courtroom.
Jane Campbell states that accessing the hearing in a more familiar and safe environment made a significant difference for a client who was ‘too scared to go home last night and there has been a significantly positive impact of using video.’
Video hearings can have a real benefit for vulnerable people who would have to face their abuser/the accused in courtroom. Video links still ‘have the gravitas of a courtroom’, as the client gets to see the judge and observe the process as if they were physically there but can access this while in a safe space.
People with Mental Health Problems
Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem in any given week.
During the judicial process, people with mental health problems may be found unfit to stand trial, or not guilty due to their mental impairment by a Judge.
The Trial process can be bewildering and incomprehensible for those with mental health problems. Video hearings can eliminate the stress and allow people with mental health problems to appear in court via video in the safety of their solicitor’s office.
Under equality legislation, specific adjustments should be made to any service used by mental ill people. These adjustments need to depend on the needs of the specific person, the service and the capacity of those running the service.
People with Disabilities
Video hearings can also benefit those people who suffer from disabilities. They help solve issues around courtroom accessibility, travel, stress and organising the right care and support for the person with a disability.
Dr Samantha Fairclough cited examples where a defendant may find giving live evidence in court difficult: “vulnerable defendants could, for example, be suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and thus be easily distracted by the multiple stimuli within a crowded court.”
Furthermore, specific individuals with Autism may be at a higher disadvantage through using video links. Dr Tidball highlights that “remote court appearances via video link likely create additional barriers to the defendant with autism being able to relate the alleged wrongdoing of their criminal actions and to the administration of justice in the processing of their case.”
While other alternative views, similarly argue that ‘clients who have mental health issues, learning difficulties and other vulnerabilities find it more difficult to understand what is going on in their case and more stressful to give evidence, if they appear on video, rather than in the court itself’.
The use of video hearings for people with disabilities should take into consideration what kind of disability they have and should be tailored to fit each individual’s needs as for some people video hearings will be extremely beneficial.
Finally, all cases are different and are dependent not only on the defendant but also on the judges discretion. Judicial discretion is the foundation for ensuring that video hearings in court succeed and ultimately, it will be down to them on whether the option to a video hearing will be available or not.