Barristers in Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have warned against the widespread use of remote court hearings after the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
The Bar of Ireland, along with the bar councils of England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the faculty of advocates of Scotland, have said careful consideration is needed before any decision is taken to employ remote hearings more widely after the current crisis has passed, because the benefits of in person human interaction should not be ignored.
In a joint statement, the organisations said they recognised some of the changes that had happened in the justice system should remain in place.
They said using remote hearings to deal with short or uncontroversial procedural matters was unobjectionable.
However they said there were multiple disadvantages with using remote hearings in a wider context, compared to the usual in person hearings that they said had "delivered justice for centuries".
Among the disadvantages cited by the barristers are less effective hearings because of less satisfactory judicial interaction.
They said managing witnesses, especially in cross-examination was also less satisfactory if done remotely and could have an adverse impact on the quality of the evidence given.
The lawyers also argued that remote hearings delivered a "markedly inferior experience".
The benefits of human interaction in physical hearings could not be ignored, they said and remote hearings were difficult in cases involving evidence or complex submissions.
They said a remote and automated system by its nature would only degrade this valuable human interaction. And they said the diverse and complex needs of clients and their participation in court cases must be safeguarded.
The barristers said they also had wider concerns about remote working. It affected the training of younger barristers and the isolation of remote working was having a negative impact on the well-being of legal practitioners.
The statement said all four organisations supported the continuing use of technology in courts and supported remote hearings becoming the default position for short or uncontroversial procedural business.
But they said for any important hearing, during which a case could be concluded or finalised, the default position should be in person hearings.
In a separate development, the judge in charge of the Commercial Division of the High Court, David Barniville, has launched a new digital arbitration service aimed at providing a way of allowing parties to resolve commercial disputes online.
The service has been developed by Irish company Armistice, which says it is offering a digital alternative to the traditional courts system. Parties can resolve their issues, privately and confidentially via their new platform rather than going to court.
Mr Justice Barniville said the pandemic had required the legal system to embrace new technologies and practices to support court hearings. He said this new platform provided a further alternative to cater for a broad range of needs.
The founder of Armistice, solicitor Setanta Landers, said the platform would complement the work of the legal profession.
He said out of every crisis, came innovation and the company's technology would support the digitalisation of the Courts Service.
Senior Counsel, Patrick O'Reilly said arbitration was a globally recognised alternative that had been underused in Ireland in favour of mediation and the courts and this digital platform made this form of dispute resolution procedure more accessible to a range of parties.