Bermuda Courts join the move to virtual hearings during COVID-19 pandemic
On 14 April 2020, the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Bermuda announced its transition to virtual court hearings, thereby joining the many other jurisdictions doing so as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic. A copy of the full Practice Direction, published in Circular No. 8 of 2020, can be read here.
The Practice Direction, taking immediate effect, applies to hearings in the Supreme Court of Bermuda and the Magistrates Court of Bermuda and offers welcome guidance on how the Courts will operate during this difficult time.
Pursuant to the Practice Direction, following consultation with Counsel or the parties, the Presiding Judge or Magistrate has sole discretion to determine whether a hearing can be conducted by electronic means but reserves the power to order the parties and any witnesses to attend Court in-person also. The protocols and procedures for conducting virtual hearings are quite detailed and range from who should be the “host”, the attire of attendees, keeping mute buttons engaged unless speaking, the rules governing media attendance and their conduct, to restrictions on copying and publishing any documents displayed on screens.
Although the move to virtual hearings is only a temporary measure during the pandemic, it represents a significant leap forward for Bermuda where virtual court hearings were almost unheard of before now. In time, when this pandemic has passed, it will be interesting to look back and compare how the Courts in the BVI, Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other common law jurisdictions dealt with electronic hearings in practice and determine what lessons can be learned for the future.