21st May 2020

Christopher McNall, in his role as a fee-paid Judge of the Tax Chamber, heard a 4 day appeal last week remotely via video. Here he gives a few tips for video hearings and his personal view from the bench…

Last week, in my part-time role as a fee-paid judge of the Tax Chamber, I heard a 4 day appeal. This was done remotely, using HMCTS’ ‘Cloud Video Platform’ (CVP), available though any laptop or smartphone, and which allows for up 25 participants. Both sides had legal teams led by QCs. Two days of evidence and two days of legal argument allowed me to see and hear a lot of excellent advocacy. These are my personal, non-binding, thoughts.

Conventional advocacy technique can be adopted, but perhaps with the following tweaks:

  • 1. Take your time. The camera angle means that you cannot see (and therefore cannot watch) the judge’s pen. Give the Judge time to write stuff down.
  • 2. Don’t rely on eye contact with the judge. It is possible, but different. It may depend on how paper-heavy the case is, and whether the judge is able to look at you, or is looking at the documents. If the documents (as mine were) are on a separate screen, then the judge will not be looking at the camera anyway.
  • 3. Ask for time if you need it. For example, it may be sensible to ask for a short break at the end of your cross-examination to see if you have been passed any virtual ‘stickies’ by your instructing client.
  • 4. It is difficult to intervene in cross-examination or submissions: The artful cough or eye-roll just won’t work. Nor can you (literally or figuratively) jump to your feet. It may well be better to restrain your enthusiasm and wait for a convenient moment.
  • 5. Getting the Judge’s attention. There is a gallery of 2 big windows, and an ‘undercard’ of other participants. If you want to get centre-stage, and into the Judge’s eyeline, it will take a while for the platform to detect and respond to that. You may want to think of a few polite inconsequential phrases which will allow that to happen.
  • 6. Invest in good equipment. I had 6000 pages, and used a big iPad, Apple Pencil, and an App (PDF Expert 7) to mark up documents on the screen as I went along. It was really easy. But if you (or your judge, or your witness) do not have this sort of kit, you will have to tailor your approach accordingly. If you have a lot of documents, then scrolling from one document to another will slow you down – a lot.

For more articles on remote hearings, click here.

Christopher McNall specialises in disputes about tenanted and freehold farms and land (and especially agricultural tenancies under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986), taxation (especially of agricultural land), proprietary estoppel, and inheritance.

He has appeared in many leading agricultural and tax cases in the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Agricultural Lands Tribunal, and the First-tier Tribunal. He is Chairperson of the Agricultural Lands Tribunal for Wales, a Deputy District Judge, and a fee-paid Judge of the Tax and Property Chambers of the First-tier Tribunal.

Christopher was Consultant Editor for the ‘Agricultural Holdings and Allotments’ title in the 2018 edition of Halsbury’s Laws of England and writes the ‘View from the Bar’ column for the Agricultural and Rural Affairs section of Practical Law. His book, ‘A Practical Guide to Agricultural Law and Tenancies’, was published recently.

For more information on Christopher McNall please contact a member of our Business and Property Clerking Team on 0161 278 8261 or email