Video link bail hearings: limiting access to justice


Drawing of a bail hearing by video link
Drawing of a video-link bail hearing. From Bail Observation Project report

PhD researcher Jo Hynes wrote this week about her observations on the use of video link technology in immigration bail hearings.

If you have been detained under immigration powers, you can apply to be released by immigration bail.

You can apply for bail from the Home Office and if this is refused (it often is), you can apply to the First-tier Tribunal to have a bail hearing in front of a judge.

Many people now have their bail hearings conducted by video-link, meaning you stay in the detention centre and you will speak to the judge who is in the Tribunal (court). If you have a lawyer representing you, they will also be in the Tribunal.

Jo writes:

Many detainees say they prefer appearing by video link, as it means they don’t have to make the journey to a hearing centre and potentially lose their room in the detention centre or prison in which they are being detained. But as Transform Justice have noted, it is not clear whether applicants are aware of the difference in outcomes between video link and in-person hearings.

The Bail Observation Project found that of 211 immigration bail hearings observed for their 2013 report, 50% of those heard via video link were refused bail, compared to 22% of those heard in person.

Jo’s research shows a similar pattern: during her observations, bail was refused in 31% of the cases heard via video link and never refused in instances where cases were heard in person.

She writes of the physical and logistical issues present when video-link is used for bail hearings.

Jo gives many other examples from her observations and concludes that current video-link technology results in “a fundamental lack of co-presence, atmosphere and participation [which] decays the reliability of hearing processes”.

Given that this kind of technology is increasingly being used both in the immigration and criminal justice systems, with Skype now used for some asylum substantive interviews and video-links used in some remand, case management and sentencing hearings, this is a real cause for concern.


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