How do I prepare for remote court hearings? 

Updated 7 August 2020

Courts and tribunals across Australia have changed the way they operate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most courts and tribunals have moved towards hearing matters remotely using online platforms or phone calls. 

The following resource is written for self-represented litigants whose court or tribunal matter has been listed for a remote hearing. It includes tips to help you: 

  • Prepare for a remote hearing
  • Attend a remote hearing
  • Navigate resources distributed by various courts and tribunals 

To minimise physical hearings, courts and tribunals may make some decisions ‘on the papers’ or ‘in chambers’. To understand what this means, please see our resource on “What are decisions made by Courts and Tribunals ‘on the papers’?

Preparing for a remote hearing  

The court or tribunal you are at will notify you if your matter is listed for a remote hearing. These hearings may occur via:   

  • Telephone conference; or  
  • Video conference, using a particular digital platform.  

When you receive your notice of hearing, you should consider whether you have any special needs that may make it harder for you to participate via the type of remote hearing that the court or tribunal has decided to use. If so, you should tell the court or tribunal immediately.  

This may apply to you in the following circumstances:  

  • You have no access to internet  
  • You have no access to suitable electronic devices, such as a computer, a smartphone, or a phone 
  • You need to communicate with the support of an interpreter 
  • You need access to a support person while attending the hearing 
  • Particular uses of digital platforms are inaccessible for you

Can I adjourn my matter so that I can attend Court in person? 

Unlikely unless you can show compelling reasons for why a physical hearing is absolutely necessary. During COVID-19, Courts and tribunal are continuing to progress matters, and have implemented a range of measures to do so fairly and expeditiously. Each request to adjourn the matter so that it can proceed in a physical hearing will be assessed on a case by case basis. Courts and tribunals are not obliged to grant you an in person hearing. 


Tips for s
etting up your platform 

If your matter is proceeding to a remote hearing, the court or tribunal will let you know in advance the method by which the hearing will be heard. This could be by telephone, or via video conferencing on a number of different digital platforms.  

Before the hearing, you should set up the platform on the digital device you will be using, and familiarise yourself with its use. You can do this by following these steps 

Step 1 - Set up and test the platform

If a free version of the platform exists, download and test its use with a friend or family memberAt a minimum, you should understand how to mute and unmute yourself, and how to use the chat function.  You can also try to set up a virtual background to protect the privacy of your home. If you do this, make sure the image is neutral or court approved.

Step 2 - Set up and test your hardware

Check that the device you intend to use is working, including its audio and video functions. To eliminate any noise and/or distraction, you should use headphones with microphones as far as possible.  

 You may also need to refer to documents throughout the hearing. If so, think about how you would like to set up your digital device, so that you can easily make reference to your notes.

Step 3 - Set up your physical space

Set up the physical space you will be using to attend the hearing. Ideally, this should be a room that is:  

  • Quiet and free of distractions – if you live with others, you might want to stay away from the kitchen or loungeroom 
  • Has good lighting – just like an in person hearing, the court or tribunal will want to see  the parties’ face and body language 
  • Comfortable – you may be in the hearing for a long time, so make sure your physical space is as comfortable as it can appropriately be.  

To ensure the hearing goes as smoothly as possible, you should also take the following steps:  

  • Prepare your witness – If you have a witness giving evidence, you should ensure that they are also adequately prepared. You can refer them to this webpage and any directions provided by your court or tribunal for guidance.   
  • Seek direction from your court or tribunal as to what to do if your technology fails during the hearing. At a minimum, you should ask for direction as to who you should contact at first instance if your connection drops out.    

Attending a remote hearing 

On the day of the hearing, you will be placed in a virtual waiting room once you log on to the relevant digital platform. Once you are admitted from the waiting room and can see the other parties in the hearing, you are in a hearing.  From this point on, all the same rules that apply for in person hearings will also apply.  

A remote hearing is just as formal as a physical hearing, so make sure that you:  

  • Dress appropriately 
  • Be guided by directions as to when to speak, and when to address the court or tribunal directly 
  • Mute your phone or microphone if not speaking to avoid feedback or noise 
  • Address other participants in the hearing respectfully using their usual titles 

You should speak up if the hearing is starting but people you expect to be present haven’t been dialled in yet. This could include:

  • Your lawyer, if you are represented
  • A social worker, advocate, or support person that you told the court or tribunal will be present
  • An interpreter if you had requested one
  • Other parties in the proceedings, including co-applicants or co-defendants

Can I record the hearing from my computer? 

No. Some digital platforms may allow you to record video conferences. However, just like an in person courtroom, you are not permitted to make your own recording of the proceedings. If you want a record of the hearing, you should make this request of the court or tribunal.


Presenting Evidence
 

Just like an in person hearing, you may be required to present documents to the court or tribunal during the course of the hearing.   

If you are in a final hearing, all the documents you intend to rely on as evidence should have been submitted to the court or tribunal, and served on the other party, in advance of the hearing. You should also have a copy of all of the other party’s documents already. Make sure that you have easy access to all of these documents prior to the hearing.  

To present evidence in the hearing, you may be able to share your screen on certain digital platforms. However, this may not always be the method preferred by your court or tribunal. You should seek guidance from the court or tribunal before you share your screen.  

If you are not permitted to share your screen, you will likely have to verbally direct the court or tribunal, and the other party, to refer to the document within the submitted bundle of documents. To prepare fothis, you should make sure that you know the electronic location of your documents well so that you can manually refer to its location quickly. For example, you can say “Please refer to Annexure 1 of my Points of Claim dated 1 January 2020 – this is the invoice from XYZ Consulting dated 3 May 2019”.   

Examining witnesses  

The same rules that apply in relation to in person witness examination also applies in remote hearings. That is, witnesses must be objective and free from interference.  

To ensure that your witness examination proceeds smoothly, you should ensure that your witness 

  • Attends the hearing using their own device, and in a separate room from you 
  • Is aware that they are to wait patiently in the waiting room of the remote hearing, and be ready to give evidence as soon as they are admitted into the hearing  
  • engages only with the hearing while giving evidence, with no access to other devices. If your witness appears to be taking directions from or speaking to someone offscreen, the court or tribunal may construe such behaviour as interference.  

Directions from courts and tribunals

Each Australian court and tribunal has implemented different approaches to case management and remote hearings during COVID-19We have listed below approaches taken by some courts and tribunals in relation to civil matters.   

Supreme Court of Victoria

The Supreme Court of Victoria will determine whether a hearing, if listed, will be heard in person, virtually, or in chambers. Once your matter is listed, you will be notified. It will also appear on the Supreme Court of Victoria’s website the day before the hearing. The list is available by clicking here (link: (https://www.supremecourt.vic.gov.au/daily-hearing-list)) 

If your matter is proceeding virtually, it will be marked as virtual hearing under the “Hearing” column.  

If your matter is proceeding in person, you will find the location of the hearing under the “Location” column.  

Which digital platform is used?  

The Supreme Court of Victoria has introduced virtual hearings using WebEx, Skype or Zoom depending on the requirements of the proceeding. You can find information about accessing and attending virtual hearings on the Supreme Court website, which is available by clicking here

County Court of Victoria

The County Court of Victoria has created consolidated information packs on recent changes to its operations in response to COVID-19. These documents are available by clicking here.  

The presiding Judge in each matter, in their discretion, will determine whether a hearing, if listed, is to proceed in person or remotely. Once a matter is listed for hearing, all parties will be notified of its method of delivery  

Which digital platform is used? 

County Court of Victoria is using Zoom for remote hearings in the Commercial Division and Common Law Division  

The Court has published user guides for Zoom, which is available by clicking here.   

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)

VCAT has currently paused all face-to-face hearings, and is listing matters to be heard either by phone, videoconferencing, or ‘on the papers’VCAT will inform you how your matter is to proceed when it lists your hearing. It will also provide you with brief instructions for how to join the hearing.   

If you need assistance with your virtual hearing you should get in contact with VCAT’s customer support as early as possible. The contact details for VCAT’s customer support is available by clicking here 

VCAT has provided the following etiquette guidance for phone and videoconference hearings:  

  • If you have documents which will be used during your remote hearing, you will need to email VCAT and all parties a minimum of 48 hours before the hearing.   
  • All VCAT hearings, including phone and videoconference hearings, are recorded. 

Federal Court of Australia

The Federal Court of Australia has published an information note which sets out all relevant COVID measures and instructions. The note is available by clicking here.  

All Federal Court listings that would ordinarily take place in person will be conducted on the papers, by telephone or by another digital platform If none of these methods are possible, the listing will be vacated or adjourned until it can be held in person.  

What digital platform is used?  

The Federal Court of Australia is using Microsoft Teams and telephone conferencing in order to hear matters. The Court has created a guide to virtual hearings and Microsoft Teams which is available by clicking here.  

Other Australian courts and tribunals

If you have concerns about a matter at any other Australia court or tribunal, you should visit the relevant court or tribunal website as a starting point.

Information from courts and tribunals is changing all the time so we recommend that you contact the specific registry hearing your matter for the most up-to-date information relevant to your case. 

We have collated links to the latest updates and information from some courts and tribunals, which are available in our resource on accessing courts and tribunals during COVID-19.

Was this page helpful?
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.