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A New Digital World

Anyone in the media will know that it is an offence under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 to record any legal proceedings. It is a strict liability offence and anyone found to violate it faces being held in Contempt of Court, subject to a fine and/or imprisonment.

During these unprecedented times, the UK Judiciary recognised that it has a role to play during the COVID-19 outbreak and instead of adjourning hearings or closing the court doors, it has instead lunged itself into a digital world whereby it has made ‘..arrangements to use telephone, video and other technology to continue as many hearings as possible remotely’.

In doing so, in the recent update to the Civil Procedure Rules (PD51Y) any court hearing heard digitally now must be recorded:

‘During the period in which this Direction is in force, where the court directs that proceedings are to be conducted wholly as video or audio proceedings and it is not practicable for the hearing to be broadcast in a court building, the court may direct that the hearing must take place in private where it is necessary to do so to secure the proper administration of justice.

Where a media representative is able to access proceedings remotely while they are taking place, they will be public proceedings. In such circumstances it will not be necessary to make an order under paragraph 2 and such an order may not be made.

Any hearing held in private under paragraph 2 must be recorded, where that is practicable, in a manner directed by the court. Where authorised under s.32 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 or s.85A of the Courts Act 2003 (as inserted by the Coronavirus Act 2020), the court may direct the hearing to be video recorded, otherwise the hearing must be audio recorded. On the application of any person, any recording so made is to be accessed in a court building, with the consent of the court. (emphasis added).

Further, Mr Justice MacDonald announces on behalf of the Family Division of the UK’s High Court that ‘The ability of the judge and the parties to access an electronic bundle for the hearing comprises an essential element of an effective remote hearing’.

There are likely to be many more updates and changes to the way civil litigation is conducted in the UK and around the world as we all learn, some more than others, to adjust to a legal world that has suddenly become more digital.

If you have any questions in relation to the above or litigation, please feel free to contact us and speak with one of our specialist solicitors. Alternatively, you can email us on litigation@bpe.co.uk or call us on 01242 224433.


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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