The demand for HKIAC's virtual hearing services has increased significantly with the onset of COVID-19. In April and May approximately 85% of all hearings have or will require virtual hearing services either in full or part. For the period February to September 2020, 65% of all hearing-related enquiries received by HKIAC involve virtual hearing support. Users are now generally choosing to proceed with hearings, and incorporate virtual hearing aspects as necessary, rather than postpone proceedings.
Hong Kong has a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases. There have been no locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 for the last 14 days, and eight of the past ten days have seen no new cases in Hong Kong at all. The number of new arbitration cases being filed each week with HKIAC is commensurate with this time in previous years, and HKIAC has remained open for physical hearings over the entire period subject to certain precautionary measures. However, due to global travel restrictions, many hearings, including physical ones, have incorporated some form of virtual hearing support to supplement, enhance, or replace traditional hearing arrangements.
According to Neil Kaplan CBE QC SBS, "The Covid-19 pandemic has required parties to engage much more pro-actively with virtual hearing technology. HKIAC has the technology and the staff to enable parties and tribunals to transform their traditional in-person hearings to full or partial virtual arbitrations. This leads to cost and efficiency benefits and shows how technology and institutional support can lessen the environmental impact of our work."
HKIAC has serviced a variety of different virtual hearing needs. The examples below demonstrate the spectrum of our capability but are not exhaustive.
Combination of a physical hearing at HKIAC and virtual hearing services in different locations and time zones
These cases involve the tribunal and counsel teams located in separate rooms at HKIAC and/or overseas, whether that be at another hearing centre or even a participant's home. Witnesses and interpreters are either present in person before the tribunal or participating remotely. The cases required services such as electronic presentation of evidence, e-bundling, real time transcription and connections through cloud-based platforms (i.e. Zoom, WebEx), or IP-based connections.
Urgent hearings on short notice in different locations in Hong Kong
An emergency arbitration hearing conducted outside of office hours from different locations within Hong Kong. Technology requirements included remote live transcription and connections through the cloud-based platform, Zoom. Extra security measures were put in place including access control via a pre-notified list of authorised participants, use of holding or waiting rooms, password protection, and monitoring by HKIAC staff to ensure meeting security.
Fully virtual hearings in multiple locations and time zones handled by HKIAC remotely
One case requires seven connections across three time zones in North America, Europe and Asia, including tribunal members in three different cities. This case involves connection through WebEx and includes a virtual hearing room, three virtual breakout rooms, electronic presentation of evidence, and remote live transcription. HKIAC is supporting the entire hearing remotely as no participants will be physically present at HKIAC.
Dr Michael Moser considers that, "Virtual hearings raise a host of issues for parties and tribunals, both technical and procedural, that physical hearings do not. These need to be dealt with early and by establishing clear protocols. By virtue of the high demand for its virtual hearing services during the COVID-19 pandemic, HKIAC has been able to help parties and tribunals navigate those issues."
HKIAC's virtual hearing services comprise six tools which can be used in any combination or individually:
(i) Video conferencing: IP-based video conferencing system that can support up to eight different locations; and cloud-based video conferencing compatible with all major video conferencing platforms.
(ii) Audio conferencing: Seamless technology and high-speed connectivity to more than 80 countries, supporting up to 30 lines.
(iii) Electronic bundle services: Online and offline eBundling services.
(iv) Electronic presentation of evidence: Assembly of evidence from multiple media sources into a logical and easy to view electronic format to present evidence at a hearing.
(v) Transcription services: Onsite or remote real-time transcription services across different locations.
(vi) Interpretation services: Simultaneous and consecutive interpretation services, onsite or remote attendance.
Further details of HKIAC's virtual hearing services can be found here.
If you are interested in our services, please complete our online enquiry form. A dedicated member of the HKIAC team will respond within 24 hours of your enquiry to discuss your specific needs. HKIAC will provide a breakdown of the costs early on, arrange all the necessary testing, and make suggestions to ensure the hearing is conducted as seamlessly as possible.
HKIAC monitors the process to ensure robust back-up mechanisms are in place and provides technical support throughout hearings. With particular reference to COVID-19, HKIAC can convert any or all aspects of a physical hearing to a virtual hearing on short notice.
Kathryn Sanger, Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, comments that, "This new normal means parties have to be flexible and pragmatic. Importantly, parties should contact institutions like HKIAC as soon as possible. HKIAC has a helpful online enquiry form and HKIAC staff, with combined legal and IT know-how, follow up quickly to discuss the options and provide practical solutions."
To learn more about HKIAC's experience and insights, please join our webinar on 15 May (15:30 HKT) entitled: Virtual hearings: How best to proceed? HKIAC insights. Speakers include Eric Ng, HKIAC Managing Counsel (arbitration specialist with IT management expertise); Kate Wyllie, Business Director at the legal technology service provider, Epiq; and Neil Kaplan CBE QC SBS international arbitrator. Register here.