Living in a “virtual inquiry” world – Top Tips

The Planning Inspectorate’s (PINS) move to “virtual” hearings and inquiries – with participants attending remotely by video conferencing – is a game-changer for those involved in such appeals.

This move was planned for later in 2020 as part of the Rosewell Review of Planning Appeal Inquiries (2019) but CV-19 has forced PINS to organise digital events to progress appeal cases during this unprecedented time. With social distancing rules to control CV-19, PINS now expect digital events to play a part in ‘most cases’ over the next six months. It may even become the norm. So how will the “virtual” inquiry change things?

There will still be long days and nights preparing and reading statements, proofs of evidence, rebuttals, unilateral undertakings, etc. and submitting bundles of supporting documentation within strict deadlines. However, there is also the prospect of less travel, overnight stays and avoiding having to carry heavy boxes of appeal documents and equipment to the inquiry venue.

Instead, we could all be sitting at home, spread across the UK, emailing, texting and communicating via MS Teams or Zoom. So, how best to adapt to the new “normal” and prepare for a “virtual” inquiry.

Here are our Top 10 tips:

1. Think about the strategy at the case conferences as the process will be much tighter;

2. Decide whether the whole team should be in the same venue throughout the inquiry; if so, arrange this but respect “purdah” requirements during Cross-Examination;

3. Use the summary in the proof for Evidence in Chief;

4. When presenting, focus on the key points and be extremely clear and succinct in thought and speech;

5. Ensure everyone carefully plans the structure of their Examination in Chief with their barrister;

6. Given the constraints of the technology, witnesses and advocates should not interrupt each other;

7. Engage with the Inspector as much as possible;

8. Judges and Inspectors say it is much more difficult and tiring to concentrate “virtually” so be succinct and on point, both in writing and orally;

9. Do a practice run with the technology, check WiFi, lighting, acoustics, etc. and examine how you appear and present on screen; get a colleague to watch and give feedback; and

10. Think about your “virtual” style, e.g. try not to look down and have good eye contact to get the Inspector’s attention throughout giving evidence.

Prepared in collaboration with Anjoli Foster, Barrister, Landmark Chambers ranked as one of the “top planning juniors” and “top planning juniors under 35” in the 2020 Planning Magazine Law Survey.