In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Employment Tribunal system has significantly adapted in order to continue to hear claims. Most full hearings are now taking place remotely using a Cloud Video Platform. Jennifer Platt, Senior Associate in the Employment Team, reflects on her recent experiences of representing clients at full remote hearings using the Cloud Video Platform.
Conducting Employment Tribunal litigation remotely throws up some challenges when you are presenting your client’s case, many of them more practical than legal.
1. Think about your Physical Setting
It sounds obvious, but it is easy to forget to consider the physical setting that you are in and how that will look to the other people in the hearing. Lighting is really important – make sure you aren’t backlit, that bright light is not streaming into the room and that it is possible to see your face clearly. Think about where in the room you want to be positioned and what is visible on the screen. You might want to remove the clothes drying on the radiator behind you!
Try to have as little background noise as possible. Opening a window or a door can cause a lot of unwanted noise. Think about where you can set yourself up to limit this. Noise feedback can be an issue and it’s a good idea to think about muting yourself when you aren’t speaking (although equally important to remember to un-mute yourself when the time comes!).
2. Impact of Body Language and Facial Expressions
I find it much more difficult to read body language and facial expressions over video. This makes it easier to talk over your opponent or even the Employment Judge when you do not intend to do so. It’s really important to think about where your camera is placed. If it is too far away from you, the Employment Judge will find it difficult to read your facial expression. It can be hard to put your point across when the Employment Judge cannot read your body language and see that you want to interject at a particular point.
3. Preparation, Preparation and more Preparation
In my view, preparation has always been the most important part of good advocacy. In the absence of seeing “real people” in the physical setting of the Employment Tribunal and it being more difficult for the Employment Judge to get a “sense” of the parties, preparation seems even more important. The Employment Judge is heavily reliant on the relevant documentation having been prepared properly (by way of a paginated bundle sent electronically) otherwise things can quickly get confusing. It’s important to think of how you can best make your claim, defence or witness evidence as clear and simple as possible. Give some thought as to how you are going to use the electronic bundle that has been prepared. Do you need multiple electronic devices and screens or do you need to print it off? If you don’t have easy access to the bundle it rapidly becomes very difficult to deal with a remote hearing.
4. Speak Slowly but Clearly
It’s more important than ever to think about how you are speaking. Think about whether you sound clear and how fast you are speaking. If you feel like you’re speaking painfully slowly, that’s probably the right speed. It’s harder to hear what is being said over video and slowing down does make it easier for everyone to hear each other.
Be prepared for proceedings to take longer than they would have taken had they been conducted in person. Minor issues that could be resolved easily in person can take more time to sort out. Bear in mind that if parties are represented there could be five people participating on the video call at any one time. This can feel very tiring. If you need to ask for a break the Tribunals are aware of the demands of operating in this way and are happy to accommodate the needs of the parties.
My recent experience of remote hearings has been positive. Technology has worked well and the Tribunals have supported the parties effectively. Video conferencing has benefits in enabling people to participate without the costs and inconvenience of travelling as well as allowing the Employment Tribunal system to operate safely during these challenging times.”