Chief Coroner’s guidance – Remote participation in coronial proceedings
17th June, 2020
The Chief Coroner has now issued Guidance Note 38, which addresses the issue of remote participation in coronial proceedings via video and audio broadcast.
What the guidance says
The guidance confirms that it is permissible to hold a partially remote hearing.
However, the Coroner must be physically present in court when conducting any hearing (including one where certain persons participate remotely). This is designed to safeguard the requirement for open justice.
It is the Chief Coroner’s view that partially remote hearings should take place wherever possible, if the technology allows, it is in the interests of justice and its use is consistent with the administration of justice.
Any participant in the court hearing can apply to take part in those proceedings remotely. ‘Participant’ includes witnesses and interested persons (including their legal representatives). The Chief Coroner is of the view that interested persons are able to give evidence and participate in this way by live video.
The usual rules of evidence will still apply, such as witnesses who give evidence remotely not being permitted to confer in respect of their evidence.
Whichever technology platform is used in order to facilitate remote access to the hearing for participants must not however inadvertently livestream, broadcast or record proceedings, which is prohibited.
Remote hearings are considered to be unsuitable for jury Inquests, save in the most exceptional and limited circumstances.
What this means in practice
A coronial hearing (Inquest or pre-Inquest review) cannot be conducted on a wholly remote basis since the Coroner him/herself must be physically present in a Coroners Court.
Given that Coroners do not technically form part of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and instead operate via local authorities, each Coroner will have to consult with their own local authority to ensure that there is adequate technology in place.
Where a Coroner is considering a partially remote hearing, s/he should give interested parties the opportunity to make representations.
Finally, it is important to bear in mind that this is not an instruction to Coroners to hold remote hearings in all cases. This case management decision is one for the individual Coroner and will be influenced by a number of factors, such as the availability of suitable technology, the number of parties to the proceedings, the length of proceedings and the nature of the evidence to be heard. The guidance does however highlight the potential for certain participants, such as lawyers and witnesses to take part in coronial proceedings remotely, which may be appropriate in a number of cases, such as where individuals are shielding and/or travel to court is not physically practicable.
The guidance can be accessed in full here.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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