Alecsandra Manning-Rees reflects on what we have learnt over the last 3 years, with remote hearings becoming the norm in professional discipline & regulatory cases
After another day of virtual hearings, accompanied by some of the problems we have all come to expect, I started to wonder what had we learnt over the past 3 years?
I hope we are seeing the tide turning and more in-person hearings taking place, particularly where they are requested by Registrants, but there will always be some hearings that are suited to being held virtually, and so they are definitely here to stay. We must make sure that this is the best way to obtain evidence and make submissions, and so I have some practical advice for the respective parties involved in professional discipline hearings.
This may well feel new to you- it is. In terms of set-up, think about it like a Teams meeting (many hearings are run on Teams). If it is unfamiliar software (some regulators use very niche ones), try to make sure you take advantage of any offers of a test call so that you can be sure on the day that your hearing link works smoothly.
Try your best to be in a quiet space where members of the public can’t overhear. It’s difficult when you are having these hearings in your own home, worlds very much collide, a pair of headphones can be a lifesaver to give you and your family separation and privacy.
When you have technical issues, raise your hand as soon as you notice something is wrong to let the other people in the hearing know. If you get disconnected entirely try to re-join, the committee and your representative (if you have one) will have noticed and they will stop the proceedings for you and re-start at the point you lost connection. The person coordinating the hearing should have your phone number but do not hesitate to ring them.
Do not ever worry about disrupting the hearing, it is your hearing, about your career. It is of utmost importance that you can see and hear everything that is happening.
Be prepared to be flexible. You must consider how you can make the lives easier for all parties involved. No one should be treating virtual or in-person as the default position now, particularly in final hearings. You should consider hybrid and in-person options even if they aren’t requested. You must not assume everyone has a home workspace suitable for a long hearing. Even when remote, you should factor in commuting time and that your Registrants will need time with their representatives to feel comfortable and not rushed. It isn’t the case that people are rolling out of bed and putting on their suit jackets over their pyjamas! It is also not enough merely to send a hearing link to your registrants. Regulators need to get in contact in advance. Provide a telephone number and an email address in case something goes wrong. I was on hold to a switchboard for an hour last week because there were no contact details provided and no one at the Regulator knew how to get hold of the hearings team. A very stressful morning for my Registrant, adding to an already stressful situation.
If the hearing is one of a list that day, please consider that the Registrant will be expecting to start at 9 am. If you give them/their representatives a not-before time the day before, and updates throughout the day, it makes the whole experience of waiting around, slightly less stressful.
If you have instructed counsel (thank you very much!) you wont always be at the hearing with us. With some hearings starting (and occasionally ending) before many offices are open, it would be great if you can make sure either you, or one of your team, are online or available via email or WhatsApp in case of emergencies. If you haven’t heard from the Regulator the day before with up to date details of the hearing, a nudge from you the afternoon before can make the next day much smoother for your clients.
We should be used to this by now. A good camera is a must, as well as making sure your audio equipment is up to scratch. Multiple screens are useful and be aware of printed papers having different numbering to the electronic version. If you cannot be against a plain or professional backdrop, blur your background if possible, and please no awful screensavers behind you with chambers logos. Your pace needs to be even slower (something my Welsh speed struggles with) and we can’t see the pen of the committee members. Don’t assume your panel have had time to digest everything before them, particularly in interim order hearings where documents are often served very late.
Remote hearings are certainly here to stay but they shouldn’t be the default and the experience of Registrants is hugely important in ensuring that justice is done and seen to be done.
Alecsandra is an experienced advocate in regulatory and professional discipline cases, crime and general litigation. She also has experience of advising in international policy matters. Alecsandra is ranked within The Legal 500 as a rising star, Tier 1, and is also ranked as Up and Coming in Chambers and Partners, in the field of regulatory and professional discipline.