Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Remote Hearings Protocol
Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann
Stephen Kós, President, Court of Appeal
Updated: 14 August 2020
Original: 17 April 2020
1. This Protocol applies to any hearing of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal in which one or more participants will participate in the hearing by Virtual Meeting Room (VMR), a web-based videoconferencing system supported by the Ministry of Justice and Spark. The Court will notify all participants if it determines that a VMR hearing will take place. This will not prevent those who wish to participate in person from doing so, unless the Court directs that all participants must appear by VMR remote access.
2. Where a participant wishes to join a VMR hearing, the Registry will ask to ensure you will 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.
3. If you cannot meet any of the above requirements, please let the registry know immediately. If your device meets the requirements, the Registry will send you details for a test call.
4. A test call will be conducted:
(a) The Registry will set a date and time for a test call and provide a link and a password to connect to the VMR.
(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 inbuilt microphone, camera and speakers these should be working already).
(d) 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 VMR hearing itself.
(e) No formal attire is required for the test call.
5. In terms of s 13 of the Courts (Remote Participation) Act 2010, the place of hearing will be the Courtroom with the Registrar. The Registrar will physically be present in the courtroom.
6. Counsel appearing remotely in a virtual hearing are not required to wear a gown; however formal attire is required.
7. You should remain seated for the virtual hearing.
8. The Registry will let you know the date and time for the virtual hearing and provide you with a link and password for the VMR at the same time. Please note that this may not be the same link and password as for your test call.
9. You must connect at least 10 minutes before the virtualhearing. The Registrar will connect at this time. The Judges 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 presiding Judge will ask counsel to enter appearances as usual. The presiding Judge will then inform counsel of how the virtual hearing is to proceed.
11. The presiding Judge will outline the process of the virtual hearing at the start. Counsel should note their allotted time for oral submissions will include the time required for questions from the bench. The presiding Judge will give guidance to counsel on how much time will likely be required for this before counsel commence their oral submissions.
12. The virtual hearing will run as close to a regular hearing as possible but will be less interactive than a regular hearing. Note:
(a) Counsel can request a break to prepare submissions in reply or deal with anything unexpected that has arisen during the virtual hearing.
(b) The Court will have read all material and submissions before the virtual hearing and so 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 presiding Judge can see that. Of course, such interruptions should be kept to a minimum.
(e) At the end of the virtual hearing, the Judges 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 virtual hearing.
14. Counsel appearing remotely in a virtual hearing 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 virtual hearing.
(i) Remember, gowns and standing are not required, but formal wear is required.
15. During COVID-19 Alert Levels 2, 3 and 4, public access restrictions will apply. If so, those present in a courtroom and courthouse will be required to register their attendance on a list maintained by the Registrar (or court taker, in the case of counsel) or scan the QR code at the entrance to the courthouse and observe hygiene and social distancing requirements. It is permissible to wear a mask and gloves.
16. Parties associated with a case or otherwise interested in it may be granted approval to attend virtual hearings remotely via VMR remote access or by an audio-only connection. This will need to be arranged with the relevant court registry in advance.
17. 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 if there are public access restrictions at the time of the hearing. They may also attend virtual hearings remotely by VMR remote access. This will need to be arranged with the relevant court registry in advance.
18. To arrange to attend a hearing remotely:
(a) For the Court of Appeal, email email@example.com or telephone 04 914 3540 the day prior to the virtual hearing. In-court media coverage applications should also be emailed to this email address within the required time. Applications will then be referred to a judge for direction.
(b) For the Supreme Court, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 04 918 8222 the day prior to the virtual hearing. In-court media coverage applications should also be emailed to this email address within the required time. Applications will then be referred to a judge for direction.
This protocol is subject to revision.