The Chief Coroner's Guidance No. 38 has detailed how remote participation in Coronial Proceedings via video and audio broadcast will take place. In summary:
- It is permissible to hold a partially remote hearing. Live video evidence can be used to hear evidence from witnesses and/or participation by Interested Persons ("IPs") but the Coroner must him/herself be physically present in the Court when conducting any hearing;
- Partially remote hearings will not be suitable, save in the most exceptional circumstances, for any jury inquests.
- It is unlawful to livestream any proceedings from a coroner’s court;
- It is permissible to use audio only lines to enable public and/or press participation, as long as the coroner has expressly disapplied s9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and given a warning as to recording.
Partially Remote Hearings
- Partially remote hearings should take place wherever possible. This however, has a number of caveats.
- They should only take place if it is in the interests of justice and its use is consistent with the administration of justice.
- Adequate technology must be in place and each Senior Coroner must consult with their own relevant local authority.
- Remote hearings should not inhibit the use of physical courtrooms where they can be accessed and used safely in line with social distancing.
- IPs and witnesses are able to give live evidence and participate by way of live video.
Livestreaming and audio broadcasting of Court proceedings
- The taking of photographs, video recordings or broadcasts of hearings, in any court of justice in England and Wales is prohibited. This also applies to remote hearings
- Section 9(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 prohibits the use of any tape recorder or any other sound recording device in a Court, except where expressly permitted.
Public access for the press and members of the public
- Given the current pandemic, it is likely that the press will be part of the proceedings remotely and this can only lawfully be done if the Coroner expressly disapplies s.9 of the 1981 Act. The Chief Coroner has provided suggested wording to disapply section 9.
Practical application and comment
- Whilst a Coroner is encouraged to order a remote hearing where the technology allows and where it is in the interests of justice, they must give those affected an opportunity to make representations. A decision to order a remote hearing should be given at the conclusion of a PIR, or in writing by letter or email.
- This Guidance encourages Coroners to use partially remote hearings, but it is not an instruction to do so. It is clear that Coroners should not hold partially remote hearings in all cases, most notably where a jury is involved. It is likely to be some time until jury inquests can resume, and when they do so, there will no doubt be a backlog of cases.
Author: Adam Hartridge