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How Did COVID-19 Shape UK Court Reporting?

Posted on: June 14th, 2021 by Sfl Media No Comments

Much like in the US, the UK justice system has also had to adapt to virtual settings (like Zoom meetings) throughout the pandemic. But it is not just lawyers and judges who have felt these perils. Court reporters have also experienced a period of adjustment.

When the pandemic hit, the UK government introduced The Coronavirus Act 2020. This meant that UK courts began to use video and audio technology so proceedings could be viewed by the public, including court reporters covering the cases.

And although the COVID-19 restrictions are easing, it doesn’t seem like video calls are going away anytime soon. The Coronavirus Act in the UK has been extended until September, so remote court hearings will continue until then.

Bumps in the Road

The transition to virtual court attendance has had its fair share of bumps in the road. One of the issues was that the UK legal system lacked the digital technology and infrastructure to make a smooth transition. Participants were dialing in through Skype and then a dedicated cloud video platform. Many times the links did not work and the settings were not acoustically designed for the type of set-up. It was often hard to hear who was talking and pick up the important details during hearings.

Normally the clerk of the court is on hand to clarify questions, or details on court lists, addresses, charges, or even the spelling of people’s names. But it is harder to ask questions in a virtual setting and so routine questions needed to be handled through follow-up emails. This was rather challenging.

Tuning in through a camera lens fails to encapsulate the typical drama expected in the courtroom. Journalists are missing out on reactions from the dock, defendants reacting to what’s being said about them, not being able to see the barristers or judge, and not understanding who the other people in the courtroom are. These are all peripheral things taken for granted in a courtroom.


The Upsides & Benefits

However, there is a bright side. Virtual hearings are more practical when a full day of work could mean up to four different hearings at four different venues across the town. So while the downside is that you can’t be there, you save time on travel and can get more accomplished virtually.

Improving accessibility could also see a spark of interest in court reporting. Virtual attendance has the capacity to get more journalists in the newsrooms involved with court reporting, but also spark more interest in the young talent coming through. However, universities have not been able to take their journalism students to visit courts as they normally would.


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