Virtual Court Hearing Solicitors
As specialist virtual court hearing solicitors, we are receiving many questions about the new Virtual Court Hearing system. This post is our overview of the new system. If you are in need of Virtual Court Hearing Solicitors, call our expert team now on 01623 397200.
What is the background to Virtual Court First Hearings?
Since 2009, magistrates’ courts have been able to conduct first hearings of criminal cases by a live link between the court and police stations. This means the defendant may appear by live link from the police station to court, rather than being taken to court to be physically present.
Does a defendant have to consent to this process?
No, not any more. Since 14 December 2009, a former requirement that a defendant must consent to participate in a live link hearing (contained in sub-section 57C (7) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) was removed by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Accordingly, it is no longer a requirement that the defendant consent to appear in court by way of the video link from the police station.
Are more defendants now appearing at court hearings by video link?
Yes. The suitability criteria custody officers use to initially assess the suitability of defendants to appear by video link have recently been relaxed. As a result of this more defendants are eligible to appear in this way at their first court hearing. (There may be regional variations as different police forces may apply different suitability criteria. In addition, youth court cases hearings will be conducted by video link.)
What is a Virtual Court First Hearing (VCFH)?
In a VCFH, the defendant is not produced at court but appears in the magistrates’ court by a video link from a room in the police station custody suite.
The magistrates (or district judge), court staff and prosecutor will be at court.
The defence solicitor will either be at the police station or the court. (This is a decision they need to make with regard to the best interests of the defendant.)
VCFHs may take place in respect of any offence.
Custody officers initially decide if a case is suitable to be heard by live link by referencing suitability criteria. (Representations may be made to custody officers regarding their decisions and a copy of the suitability criteria can be requested by legal professionals.) There are also regional variations in terms of which cases are deemed eligible for VCFH. A risk assessment is also carried out as due consideration has to be given to the possibility of violent behaviour from the defendant prior to or during a VCFH.
The final decision to proceed by way of a live link hearing is made by the court. Section 57C (6)(A) of the Crime and Disorder Act 2006 states that ‘a live link direction under this section may not be given unless the court is satisfied that it is not contrary to the interests of justice to give the direction’.
Is the Defendant Fit for this Process?
The defendant’s legal representative has a duty to ascertain that the defendant is fit – physically and mentally – to take part in the proceedings. The following indicators should be addressed for each defendant if they:-
- are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering the effects of withdrawal
- have cognitive, mental or physical health issues that may affect their rights while in police detention
- have been subject to inappropriate police pressure
- have the necessary communication skills and abilities.
Similarly, due care should be taken for defendants who require an appropriate adult (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) or interpreter. It is crucial that defendants are able to understand and cope with the virtual court process. If they are not, this would form the basis of an application to the court that it would not be in the interests of justice to make the direction.
If you have received notification that a VCFH has been fixed, and need virtual court hearing solicitors, contact us on 01623 397200 for free initial advice.