Headlines: March 10th, 2003

Video Conferencing links are to be used by the Social Security and Child Support Commissioners for the first time. It will mean that the Commissioners, who hear appeals from tribunals on points of law in both Social Security and Child Support cases, can now make use of the new facilities, linking Commissioners to forty-four venues throughout England, Wales and Scotland.Most of the Commissioners’ cases are decided on paper, but where an oral hearing is needed the new links are likely to prove valuable. The Court Service says matters decided by the Commissioners are often ideally suited for video-conferencing. It believes the innovation will particularly benefit the less well-off and disabled people who may find travelling difficult. In addition the new service will be provided through collaboration with other agencies and the sharing of court facilities in different localities.

With many applicants advised by local welfare rights groups and Citizen Advice Bureaux in their own areas, the Court service feels the use of video conferencing will enable them to represent their clients without incurring the costs of travel and time spent out of the office.

Paul Robinson, Project Development Officer at Bebington Citizen’s Advice Bureau said, “Accessing Commissioners’ hearings by video link will provide considerable savings in cost and time for representatives, many of whom work in the not-for-profit sector. More representatives will be able to attend hearings, with obvious benefits for their clients’ cases.”

The Chief Commissioner, Judge Michael Harris, has supported and encouraged the scheme and said modern tribunal systems should be accessible to their users, and for some people video conferencing would be the ideal medium.