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Global lockdowns have forced courts and arbitral institutions to adapt and adopt virtual hearings. With the world slowly inching back to the normal way of life, will virtual hearings still be here?

To answer this question, we spoke with legal tech and arbitration experts, Sebastian Mejia, Sophie Nappert, and Ben Giaretta, on the prevalence of virtual hearings in a post-COVID world.

Sebastian Mejia

“What impressed me most about the virtual hearing process was how lawyers worked more effectively and efficiently.”

For international lawyer Sebastian Mejia, virtual hearings will be here to stay because of how efficient it is. He shared with us an experience in handling a billion-dollar dispute wherein digital arbitration and virtual hearing were used.

In his experience, he said that a hybrid model, one wherein physical and virtual modes are used, is the most efficient.

Instead of simply doing the virtual hearing separately from home offices, Sebastian and their team worked in hubs from all over the world.

“The virtual hearing process went very well. What impressed me the most was how lawyers worked more effectively and efficiently,” Sebastian said.

Sophie Nappert

“I think taking evidence online is completely possible. Actually, we’ve been doing it now for a year and a half.”

International arbitrator and co-founder of ArbTech, a digitally inclined community of international arbitrators, Sophie Nappert is aware that there is apprehension in the legal community when it comes to virtual hearings. 

“This is [one of the] reasons why arbitration, and the courts for that matter, have resisted for so long to take everything online, because even advocates like barristers and lawyers who plead would say, ‘I can’t cross-examine, it makes no sense, there’s a whole lot of body language, chemistry, and human interaction that you don’t even have to speak and you convey information.’” Sophie says.

However, she believes that taking evidence online is completely possible. After all, one could also misjudge a lie or truth in person, so doing it online can have little difference.

The key here would be ensuring that the process is transparent and fair to ensure that the gathering of evidence during a virtual hearing would be accurate.

Ben Giaretta

“Video conferencing nowadays is remarkable. It will be surprising to have a case which doesn’t involve video conferencing in the future.”

Ben Giaretta, an international commercial arbitrator and Chair of the London Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, believes that the pandemic accelerated our access to virtual hearings, thus, it will only continue to proliferate.

“The pandemic has accelerated people’s access to video conferencing. The fact that we now have this software on all our computers and phones is remarkable,” he says.

In its wake, Ben believes that video conferencing will only continue to be part of every arbitral procedure and he believes that it will be part of more future cases.

Even more boldly, he predicts that virtual reality may be implemented in the future to really push the boundaries of virtual hearings.

The adoption of virtual hearings in a post-COVID era seems to be inevitable. Anyway, we were probably already headed there — the pandemic has only accelerated it. With that, we could expect that virtual hearings will be part of our new normal.

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