The multi-party legal proceedings, brought by the Republic of Kazakhstan, related to $530m of assets and had been due to be heard in London’s Rolls Building. However, the seven-day trial was forced to move online because of coronavirus, with the judge, barristers, solicitors, witnesses, stenographers and interpreters dialling in from home.
The video conferencing platform Zoom was used in collaboration with a third-party service provider, Sparq, which provided technical support. Opus2 provided a live transcription service and the proceedings were live streamed on YouTube.
Tom Lidstrom, a partner at Linklaters who represented one of the parties, said the technology ‘worked very well’ and the trial, which ran to schedule, proved to be ‘robust and reliable’. He said: ‘Often the legal profession is classed as quite conservative and I think what’s been encouraging about this case is that everyone has been innovative and practical. I don’t think the legal profession is conservative; I think it is cautious and that’s a good thing.’ Further online trials are ‘inevitable’, Lidstrom said. ‘Even after this crisis it may be there is greater use of technology, particularly in the hearings before the trial, such as the case management conferences where there is an international dimension.’
In a first for the Commercial Court, Mr Justice Teare agreed for the trial to be conducted remotely and streamed online, stressing the need for courts to adopt an optimistic attitude. According to Linklaters, Teare J ‘gave short shrift to the argument that there would likely be insurmountable logistical and technical difficulties’.