Thursday, March 22, 2007

Telephone Hearings

The latest civil procedure fad is to make as many application hearings as possible take place by telephone. I had a telephone hearing earlier this week with a very pleasant District Judge in a far away County Court. The line was very crackly, and I fondly imagined that the Judge was using a phone of a similar vintage to the one pictured here.

Seriously though telephone hearings create the following problems:-

1. You cannot see the Judge's expression. This means you never quite know whether you have said enough to convince him / her or whether you are about to get shouted at.

2. It's rarely clear whose turn it is to speak. Uncomfortable silences abound.

3. Often the parties and the court have quite different documents in front of them. If both sides have sent draft directions to the court, it can be unclear which set the Judge is working from.

4. There is the terrible temptation to take telephone hearings on a mobile phone, preferably from home but possibly from more exotic locations.


Transplanted Lawyer said...

We have been doing telephonic hearings for routine matters in California for nearly ten years now. The system works well. These are basically calendar control matters, in which the attorneys advise the court of what the status of discovery is, receive trial dates and other upcoming hearing dates, and that kind of "housekeeping." The system works well -- it saves my clients a lot of money and me a lot of time.

I am also licensed in Tennessee, which has no equivalent phone system. The result of that was that for similar sorts of appearances, I have had to drive 400 miles to get a trial date and have a stipulated discovery scheduling order entered.

While you are right that a complex motion probably does require everyone present in court, if the British system has similar sorts of relatively standardized procedures, I would suggest you look twice at telephonic appearances.

The Barrister Blog said...

I think transplanted lawyer makes a good point - for hearings that simply lay down a timetable or cover housekeeping matters, telephone hearings are really very efficient.

I have more of a problem with telephone hearings being used for contested applications. It is simply easier to argue difficult points face to face.