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It is difficult to imagine Jack Nicholson delivering his seminal “You can’t handle the truth!” line from A Few Good Men (1992) via video link. Would the plea of Atticus Finch that “…all men are created equal” have been quite so emotive over Zoom?

The Court of Appeal in Belfast recently considered a case where a McKenzie Friend experienced some “technical difficulties” with a remote hearing.

Background

The parties have been involved in a partnership dispute since 2016.  

In 2018, a Master of the High Court appointed a solicitor as receiver of the property of the (now former) partnership. 

On appeal, the High Court directed the sale of various properties before further review.

The appellant was given leave to appeal that interlocutory order, challenging the fairness of the hearing (i) being conducted remotely and (ii) their McKenzie Friend was unable to connect to the remote hearing.  

Judgment

The Coronavirus Act 2020 made provision for live links in courts in Northern Ireland. A Practice Direction expressed the overarching principle: “Every remote hearing will be planned and conducted in a manner designed to secure every party’s right to a fair hearing.”

Counsel’s contemporaneous note of the pre-hearing review stated of the appellant,

Doesn’t say unfit to attend court or to pursue matter … Welcome to attend court – happy to dial in by videolink. Either way matter will be proceeding next week.

The decision to hold a remote hearing fell within the judge’s discretion. The evidence demonstrated that “…the hearing was conducted entirely fairly and the appellant was afforded every opportunity to cross-examine the witness and to make his case. The right to a fair hearing was clearly preserved.”

On the substantive hearing, Mr Justice Humphries observed:

It is quite apparent that the appellant was able to make his points to the judge hearing his appeal, and to effectively cross-examine… It is most notable that at no stage during the hearing did the appellant claim that he was in any way disadvantaged, whether by the hearing proceeding on a remote basis, or by any issue which had arisen in relation to his McKenzie Friend. In fact, the order made by [the judge] at the conclusion of the hearing reveals that the appellant was partially successful in persuading the court…

Case dismissed. 

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