Remote Hearings Protocol

Remote participation by witnesses in criminal hearings

The High Court has issued guidelines for remote participation by witnesses in criminal hearings.

These guidelines outline practical considerations for judges and participants when considering and determining whether witnesses can, and if so, should, give evidence remotely in criminal trials.

 


Remote Hearings Protocol

Chief High Court Judge Geoffrey Venning
28 May 2020

Contents

Introduction
Setup
Connecting to the virtual hearing
Virtual hearing protocol
Important information
Attendance of observers (including attendance in person)
Public access
Media access

Introduction

1.  The High Court is conducting both in person, and, where appropriate, remote hearings in its courtrooms during COVID-19 Alert Level 2.  Participants may join remote hearings by Virtual Meeting Room (VMR), a web browser-based video conferencing system supported by the Ministry of Justice and Spark.  This Protocol applies when VMR is being used for a hearing.

2.  Cases being heard by the High Court will continue to be listed on the Court’s hearing schedule, which are updated regularly and published on the Courts of New Zealand website.

Setup

3.  Where a participant wishes to join a hearing that is to be conducted virtually, you will need to be able to connect with the following requirements:

(a)  Browser: Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge or Mozilla Firefox (recommended but others may work; do not use Internet Explorer).

(b)  Connectivity: a strong and stable internet connection (preferably broadband or Wi-Fi, otherwise any stable high-speed data connection).

(c)  Device and hardware: a computer or laptop with a microphone and camera; headphones with an in-built microphone (strongly recommended) or, as a minimum, you can use the device microphone with regular headphones.

(d)  Positioning: sit before a blank background – this reduces picture distortion for other participants.

4.  If you cannot meet any of the above requirements, please let the Registry know immediately.

Connecting to the virtual hearing

5. (a)  The Registry will provide a link and a password to connect to the virtual hearing.

(b)  Copy and paste the link into your browser (as above).  You will then be able to enter the password.

(c)  You will be taken to a new screen where you will then be asked to set up your video, microphone and speakers (if you have an in-built microphone, camera and speakers these should be working already).

(d)  If required, a test call will be conducted 10–15 minutes before the start of the hearing.

(e)  During the test call the Registry will ensure that all parties can hear and see one another and then provide a rundown of how the system works.  This is a good chance to ask any questions about the VMR system or the hearing itself.

Virtual hearing protocol

6.  In terms of s 13 of the Courts (Remote Participation) Act 2010, the place of hearing will be the Courtroom where the Registrar and/or Judge is situated.  The Registrar and/or Judge will physically be present in the courtroom.

7.  Gowns are not required for the hearing; however formal attire is required.

8.  You should remain seated for the hearing.

9.  You must be connected at least 10 minutes before the hearing.  The Registrar will connect at this time.  The Judge will then enter the virtual hearing once the Registrar confirms that all parties are connected, with no audio-visual issues.

10.  The Registrar will then call the case and the Judge will ask counsel to enter appearances as usual.  The Judge will then inform counsel of how the hearing is to proceed.

11.  The Judge will outline the process of the virtual hearing at the start.

12.  The virtual hearing will run as close to a hearing-in-person as possible but will be less interactive than a hearing-in-person.  Note:

(a)  Counsel can request a break to prepare submissions in reply or deal with anything unexpected that has arisen during the hearing.

(b)  Counsel are reminded of the desirability of focussed oral submissions.

(c)  Some participants may be attending by audio only.

(d)  If you want to speak when another counsel is speaking, to add a point of clarification or to object in the manner you would in a face-to-face hearing, raise your hand toward the screen so that the Judge can see that.  Of course, such interruptions should be kept to a minimum.

(e)  At the end of the virtual hearing, the Judge will first disconnect, then the Registrar will end the call.

13.  Participants should remain alert to any deterioration in picture and sound quality and inform the Court immediately if this is impacting on their ability to participate fully in the hearing.

Important information

14.  Counsel should:

(a)  Speak directly into the microphone when addressing the Court.

(b)  Be familiar with how to mute your microphone and turn your video off.

(c)  Mute your microphone when you are not speaking.

(d)  Reduce your body movements as much as possible.

(e)  When positioning the camera on your device, be mindful of camera angles, glare from windows, and the background.

(f)  Speak more slowly than a normal courtroom pace.  Speak as clearly as possible.

(g)  Note that audio cues are more important in a remote context.  If your remarks are addressed to a particular person, identify them and audibly signal when you expect a response.

(h)  Attempt to find a remote site that is free from as much background noise and interruptions as possible.  Ensure mobile phones are on silent mode and switch off notifications on the device being used for the hearing.

(i)  Remember, gowns and standing are not required, but formal wear is required.

Attendance of observers

Public access

15.  During COVID-19 Alert Level 2, public access restrictions apply.  Those present in a courtroom and courthouse must register their attendance on a list maintained by the Registrar (or court taker, in the case of counsel) and observe hygiene and social distancing requirements.  You may elect to wear a mask and gloves.

Media access

16.  Accredited members of the media may attend hearings in the courtroom where the hearing is being hosted, but the requirements set out in paragraph 15 above will apply to them. 

17.  The High Court daily lists contain the name and telephone number of the media contact for each court.  Media are advised to contact this person if they wish to make arrangements to attend a hearing, either in person or by using technology for virtual hearings.  Media can also email the registry directly.  The following email addresses can be used for the High Court:

High Court circuit
Court
Email address
Auckland Auckland High Court aucklandhc@justice.govt.nz
Whangārei High Court
Hamilton High Court hamilton.hc@justice.govt.nz
Rotorua High Court rotorua.hc@justice.govt.nz
Tauranga High Court tauranga.hc@justice.govt.nz
Wellington Wellington High Court wellingtonhc@justice.govt.nz
Gisborne High Court
Napier High Court
Palmerston North High Court
New Plymouth High Court
Whanganui High Court
Masterton High Court
Nelson High Court
Blenheim High Court
Christchurch Christchurch High Court christchurchhc@justice.govt.nz
Greymouth High Court
Timaru High Court
Dunedin High Court
Invercargill High Court

The High Court registries will provide login details for virtual hearings to regular media contacts, and to other media on request.

18.  Non-media participants may be granted approval to join virtual hearings via VMR, an audio-only connection or by telephone.  This will need to be arranged with the relevant court registry in advance.  There is to be no recording of proceedings without first obtaining the prior approval of the Judge.