Virtual case management conference: how it worked in practice

Earlier this week, Macfarlanes held a virtual full day case management conference in the High Court over Skype for Business.

The hearing covered wide-ranging arguments concerning the progress of a large-scale group litigation order.

The Judge was proactive in supporting the parties’ proposals for a video-conferenced hearing. This included allowing for a high degree of informality towards possible interruptions for childcare (or even home deliveries).

In preparation, before the case management conference, a test was run to ensure the parties could access and operate the chosen video conferencing platform. A back-up alternative platform was also tested and made available, should it be needed. Bundles, trimmed to contain only the key material, were distributed and available electronically.

All the participants joined from separate locations around the UK. The Judge and leading counsel activated their cameras, while junior counsel, solicitors and the transcribers all listened on mute.

Messages were passed to leading counsel by way of email (on the one side) and WhatsApp (on the other).

The virtual case management conference was remarkably seamless. The ability to see the advocates’ faces, as well as the Judge, created a different and more personal dynamic. IT interruptions were few and far between, although they did highlight the need to have back-ups, not just for the conferencing platform but for associated functions, such as recording proceedings or providing documents.

Full virtual trials will inevitably entail more work, but this positive experience demonstrates that the courts are adopting a pragmatic and dynamic approach to litigation in this challenging environment. It is clear that the courts now see video conferencing platforms are likely to become business as usual and we will all need to adapt.