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  • Writer's pictureShaun Pascoe

Tips for Online Court Hearings - A Guide for Beginners

The Courts in Victoria adopted online hearings as a response to the global pandemic.


Although all Courts are increasingly returning to in-person court appearances, WebEx hearings are still conducted and are likely to continue to be utilised by our Courts for years to come.


Video conferencing has been around in some shape or form for many years. The technology is not new and various platforms, for example, Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are well known computer applications. In Victoria, the Courts utilise WebEx or Zoom depending upon the

jurisdiction and the type of hearing.


The Magistrates Court uses WebEx for all online hearings.


In this article we discuss tips for those appearing remotely, providing practical advice to ensure you are thoroughly prepared for your matter(s). Explicitly, it is very important to recognise the proper etiquette for online appearances.



Table of Contents

 

Before the Online Hearing

  • Select an appropriate device with an operating camera at your discretion. The device can be a laptop, computer, mobile phone, or tablet.

  • Ensure that you have a reliable internet connection.

  • Download WebEx and setup an account. Although if the Court provides a link, you can join the hearing from your internet browser,

  • Find an appropriate location, ensuring you are in a quiet room without any visual distractions in the background.

  • Give yourself at least 20 minutes before the start of your online hearing to test your technology and internet connection to ensure that there are no issues with your connectivity, visual and audio settings.

  • Dress appropriately as though you were in-court appearing before a Magistrate in person.

  • Access the link five (5) to ten (10) minutes prior to your scheduled Hearing time and make your appearance known to the Court in the chat function. With WebEx the chat function is usually located on the bottom right corner.



During the Online Hearing

  • Ensure your camera is off and your audio is on mute initially, as soon as you hear the Court clerk announce your case, activate your microphone and cameras.

  • Obey any direction given by a Magistrate or judicial officer or bench clerk in respect to your appearance and matter overall.

  • Don’t eat or drink during the Hearing. This includes but not limited to talking on the phone, smoking, working, constantly moving around, etc.

  • Remain focused and do not take photographs, record, or transmit any portion of a proceeding (a criminal offence under sections 4A and 4B of the Courts Security Act 1980).

  • Where there are glitches at play with technology that prevent your WebEx connection working properly, the Court may in its discretion conduct the hearing over an audio link such as a mobile phone.



What Types of Hearings are Conducted Online?


In Victoria, the conduct of online criminal hearings in the Magistrates Court of Victoria is governed by Practice Direction No. 6 of 2022, , As per Practice Direction No. 6 the suitability of an an online hearing will depend upon several considerations:


The type of case that is listed (mention, contest mention, plea of guilty, contested hearing), whether it is a family violence case, whether the accused is on bail or summons, and the appropriateness of a finalising a case (i.e. by plea of guilty), having regard to the likely outcome.


A simple plea of guilty hearing where the outcome might be a fine or adjourned undertaking is more likely to proceed as an online hearing, in contrast to a sentencing outcome involving the likelihood of imprisonment.


It is important to remember the same court etiquette applies regardless of whether a court hearing is conducted in-person on online via WebEx or Zoom.


Appearing for a court case online does require some adjustment, however the adoption of this technology by the Courts, and in appropriate cases represents for many a more convenient and practical means of appearing for Court.



Further Resources:

Magistrates’ Court of Victoria

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