Scottish lawyers express dissatisfaction with virtual court system - new survey

Scotland’s lawyers are not satisfied with the virtual court system, with 70 per cent seeing an increase in the length of time it takes cases to proceed through the courts, new research suggests.

The latest survey from accountancy and advisory firm Henderson Loggie highlights dissatisfaction among solicitors with the virtual court hearings introduced during the pandemic. Around 45 per cent of respondents said that representing clients virtually is worse than in traditional courtrooms.

Yet, in 2020, two out of three respondents to a previous survey by the firm - one of very few in Scotland with a specialist forensic accounting division - thought that the courts should allow clients to be represented remotely in civil courts to reduce the backlog, suggesting that full proofs should be run online.

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Since then, almost all respondents (95 per cent) have had experience of cases being heard in virtual courtrooms. Half described the experience as no more or less efficient than traditional courtrooms but 45 per cent voted that representing clients virtually is worse.

Some 60 per cent of those asked rated virtual procedural hearings to be better than traditional procedural hearings and almost half - 47 per cent - gave the thumbs down to online platforms.

The highest levels of dissatisfaction with virtual courtrooms were in relation to examining and cross-examining both witnesses of fact, where 83 per cent with experience consider it worse than in a traditional courtroom, and expert witnesses, where 70 per cent of those with experience considered it worse.

Peter Graham, director of Henderson Loggie’s forensic accounting practice in Scotland, said: “Although virtual courtrooms have kept the wheels of justice turning throughout the pandemic and have some advantages of convenience over traditional courtrooms, lawyers have experienced issues when examining or cross examining witnesses.

“In a traditional courtroom setting, non-verbal communication plays a significant role in this process, and nuances are lost through a video link. As a forensic accountant and expert witness, I have also found the virtual experience to be less satisfactory when facing a full court online.”

Peter Graham, director of Henderson Loggie’s forensic accounting practice in Scotland.

The report also points to a rise in the number of disputes not progressing because of Covid, with a quarter of those surveyed experiencing an increase.

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