As judicial systems across the world are resorting to digital hearings in a bid to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, a plethora of issues including virtual court room etiquettes have cropped up.
Recently, Dennis Bailey, a judge in the Broward Circuit, Florida, urged all the lawyers to strictly adhere to a formal dress code and to not appear on camera "inappropriately".
In an open letter issued in this behalf, Judge Bailey said that the lawyers and their clients should keep in mind these Zoom hearings are just like court hearings and they are not casual phone conversations.
"It is remarkable how many ATTORNEYS appear inappropriately on camera. We've seen many lawyers in casual shirts and blouses, with no concern for ill-grooming, in bedrooms with the master bed in the background, etc. One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers. And putting on a beach cover-up won't cover up you're poolside in a bathing suit. So, please, if you don't mind, let's treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not," his letter read.
A similar incident occurred in India as well in the (virtual) court of Justice SP Sharma of the Rajasthan High Court.
Reportedly, an advocate appeared to argue a bail matter through video conferencing in his vest. Making a strong objection to this, Justice Sharma adjourned the hearing and called upon the HCBA to ensure that all its members follow a proper dress code.
That apart, Judge Bailey noted that virtual hearings are more challenging due to audio drifting.
"Be aware, Zoom hearings take more time than in-person hearings due to lag time in audio capacity coming online and people talking over each other which challenges the responsibility to make contemporaneous objections," he said.
He thus advised the lawyers to remain alert. "Often, lawyers are not looking at their screens but down at their files, their outlines and notes, or simply out the window, and cannot see the judge is hollering "Stop! Stop!" because an objection has been made and the audio stays with the witness rather than obeying the judge," he said.
Citing a similar problem, Justice Dinesh Mehta of the Rajasthan High Court last week adjourned five bail applications while observing "hearing of so many counsel simultaneously even by video-conferencing is not feasible".
Lastly, Judge Bailey asked the lawyers to come prepared for evidentiary hearings. For instance, he suggested, the lawyers should send whatever exhibits they intend to introduce into evidence to both the Court and to the opposing counsel well in advance of the hearing.
Adding to this he said,
"You will also have to coordinate third-party witnesses; if they can't be on camera, they can't be sworn in by the judge and will need a notary at their location to verify identification and oath."