With COVID-19 restrictions being eased, a return to ‘in-person’ hearings in the civil and criminal courts is on the way. However, for employment tribunals, this is not the case. For now, these will continue to be virtual, with those involved joining via video conferencing software.
So, what do you need to know about attending a virtual employment tribunal?
Preparation is key
Bundle preparation is a vital part of any hearing, but for virtual tribunals, these bundles (which contain documentation relevant to the case) must be prepared electronically. In order to avoid delays, there are set directions to follow.
- The bundle must be one single PDF document
- The bundle should include an index with clickable links that take the reader to the relevant section
- Digital bookmarks should be included for ease of navigation
- Text should be fully searchable to allow people to find specific phrases
- Paper versions are still required in some cases, so don’t rule these out completely
Before the hearing begins, attendees should also ensure they have a suitable device that is fully charged, access to stable internet, and headphones to avoid feedback. This way, the hearing can begin without any disruption.
If possible, dual screens or two separate devices should be used to view documentation to make sure it is clear and readable.
Before the hearing begins
Hearings often begin at 10 am, but it’s a good idea to log on ten minutes before to check that everything is working as it should - and that no filters are applied. Attendees will be placed into a virtual waiting room until the start of the tribunal, and the clerk may ask for your reason for attendance.
Log on details are often sent no earlier than 24 hours before the hearing, so keep an eye on emails to ensure the link isn’t missed.
During the tribunal
While giving evidence, no one is allowed to coach you, give you messages or signal to you, as with any other ‘in-person’ hearing. Therefore, it’s important to have all documents in order and to practice switching between these beforehand to make the process as smooth as possible.
Keep in mind that there could be a lag due to varying internet speeds. Should anything be unclear, then you may be asked for clarification. If you are unsure about anything that has been said, then don’t be afraid to ask the person to repeat themselves.
Throughout normal proceedings, there are points where lawyers can communicate with their clients and witnesses. This is the same in virtual hearings, but messaging applications such as WhatsApp will need to be used instead. It can be sensible to discuss which application is preferable before the tribunal, to avoid any delays.
Remember that just because the tribunal is in a virtual setting, it doesn’t mean that the core rules can be disregarded. Preparation is essential, and although some technical difficulties are unavoidable, it is important to take virtual hearings just as seriously as those held in person.
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