The times of the intensive Covid 19 Pandemic forced us to redefine the terms and conditions of economic cooperation and trade, to develop new chains of deliveries as well as to maintain the functionality of state agencies and authorities. In response to these challenges and needs, an accelerated digitality of public services, including conducting of court hearings in the form of remote video meetings through different platforms and programs, has taken place. In Poland, a new regulation in this respect was introduced by a bill from 02.03.2020 on special solutions aimed at preventing and combating Covid 19 and other contagious diseases as well as crises triggered by these events (“Bill”) . However, the new bill should be effective in the time of the threat caused by the pandemic and up to one year after it has ceased.
In the time of the Pandemic conducting of remote court hearings became more and more appreciated due to the reduction of costs and time associated with access to court buildings and to the avoidance of collisions between dates of hearings. However, ad-hoc solutions presented in the Bill were not in line with the immediacy principal (physical hearing) in civil law trials, especially within evidence proceedings, as it especially prevented direct contact of the court with witnesses and other trial players. In some cases deposition of a witness in the presence of a sworn translator or oral experts opinions last longer within a remote hearing resulting in extending of this part of the trial. In addition, courts often do not possess reliable video applications of high quality, IT software and other equipment leading sometimes to disruptions and reiteration of parts of entire hearings
The majority of sanitary restrictions associated with the Covid-19 Pandemic were finally called off and the pandemic ended officially on 16.05.2022. This means that the courts can return to normal business and to normal proceedings and the question arises as to whether court hearings can further be conducted remotely. The answer to this question is positive as the regulation of the Bill will still remain in force until May of next year, unless a new wave of the pandemic will make matters worse. If not, the courts will entirely lose the possibility to conduct audiovisual meetings because of a lack of legal regulations.
As a consequence, it would be welcomed to discuss in a factual and in depth manner the option to carry out court hearings in civil matters by means of electronic connection. It appears to be vital to introduce new legal provisions being able to regulate these issues permanently and completely taking into account factors such as: the nature of proceedings, the type of parties in the case and whether or not the parties have legal representation.
It is hard to imagine a situation in which the courts will not be allowed to use remote techniques in their daily work in the future regardless of the level of external risks and threats and remote hearings should remain a permanent feature of the justice system. This is especially important for disputes in business related matters that are from experience rather long and time consuming despite recent attempts by the Polish legislator to improve their course and stringency. The conducting of trials in remote mode, when taking into consideration that deposition of witnesses, should be deemed an exception to the rule and could significantly speed up proceedings. Also in other kinds of civil disputes, the possibility of remote trials would give a court the opportunity to find out the parties’ intentions at the beginning of the trial, especially in cases in which the party’s pleadings are important to the outcome of the matter. The same considerations and rules refer also accordingly to civil proceedings before courts of appeal. However, It seems that a remote hearing before the Polish Supreme Court, due to the dignity of this court and the significance and character of legal matters adjudicated, should be limited. Lawyers are also prepared for adopting their action to new challenges and requirements when it comes to remote hearings. Their work has significantly changed due to courts rapidly moving online and the digitalization of court services in the light of the Pandemic. Many of them now cannot imagine attending court hearings without video – conferences in the post-pandemic time but they must upgrade their IT systems as well to make sure they work with the court hearing evaluation system. It is a hope that this evaluation helps judges and lawyers to begin constructive discussions about the future use of remote hearings to introduce well- functioning policies and procedures.
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