A High Court judge has been replaced on a case after she accidentally broadcast "pejorative comments" about one of the parties, because she forgot to close the laptop link to the virtual courtroom.
Justice Judd was presiding over a care proceedings case in relation to a mother and her 16-month-old son. It was a hybrid hearing, with evidence being given in court and remotely. The mother was being cross-examined in-person, when she complained of back pain, blurred vision and said that she'd developed a cough. Justice Judd sent the mother home, saying she could conclude her evidence remotely.
After the court rose, Justice Judd went through to her office but, unknown to her, the Zoom link to the hearing remained open on her laptop. People attending the case remotely could hear the judge telling a clerk that she thought the mother was pretending to have a cough and was trying "every trick in the book" to avoid difficult questions.
A number of attendees on the call tried to speak over the judge's conversation to try to cover up what was being said. After a couple of minutes, a court usher managed to alert the judge.
The judge swiftly passed her sentence on the laptop.
The mother requested that Justice Judd step down from the case, but the judge refused saying that the “process of a fair trial” had not been undermined. The mother appealed saying Judd’s comments were capable of “giving rise to a real possibility of bias”.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the mother, and said Justice Judd would be replaced, on the basis that a “fair-minded observer” might think the judge had formed an “unfair view”.
Lady Justice King, said the Court of Appeal had "considerable sympathy" for Justice Judd and the incident showed "the hazards" of remote hearings. However, the court concluded that her comments "did indeed fall on the wrong side of the line," and the fact that she intended the comments to be private did not salvage the situation.
It is not the first time that Zoom has cocked up a legal video call.