Birkett Long turned a boardroom into a court room for the day by using live video link technology to speak to witnesses living in Australia and win a client’s boundary dispute claim.
The Essex law firm, which has offices in Colchester and Chelmsford, believes this could be the first time video conference technology has been used in this way in the region.
Adrian Livesley, Managing Partner, said: “I have worked in the industry for 30 years and I have never seen a local courtroom be a live video link in a solicitor’s office before. Although the Royal Courts of Justice use video conferencing regularly, and the Crown Courts make extensive use of video technology often in cases involving children or sexual assault, it is not commonly used for civil cases such as boundary disputes. It may be a unique case for the region and for an Essex law firm.”
The court gave permission to use live video link technology following an application made by Associate Solicitor Tom Lawrence (part of the firm’s Commercial Litigation team) on his client’s behalf. Tom dealt with the boundary dispute claim on behalf of Skee-Tex Limited, a well known ski shop based in Essex.
Tom explained: “Our client had five witnesses to call upon as part of the trial to prove ownership of the specified land. Two of these key witnesses had emigrated to Australia in 2006. As the couple had previously lived in a cottage, now owned by one of the defendants, their evidence was crucial to our client’s case.”
Skee-Tex was able to provide evidence that it had paper title to the land in question. The burden then shifted to the defendants to show that they had acquired the land through adverse possession.
In order to win, the defendants needed to prove that they had occupied the specified land for at least a period of 12 years, uninterrupted, without any challenge. But the witnesses living in Australia were able to provide evidence against the defendants and in support of Birkett Long’s client Skee-Tex Limited. They had previously owned the property, currently owned by one of the defendants, between 2002 and 2006 and had not used the specified land during that time.
To ensure this information was available to the members of the court, Tom recommended the use of an internet-based video-conferencing facility.
The 10-day trial to determine the boundaries and ownership was heard in Chelmsford County Court. But for one unusual day of the hearing, members of the court attended Birkett Long’s Chelmsford office where the boardroom’s large video conference screen was split to involve both the members of court in the board room and the witnesses in Australia.
Tom added: “The only alternatives would have been to fly the couple back, which would have proved extremely expensive, or to submit their evidence as hearsay. Hearsay evidence is far less persuasive as the judge would not have been able to cross-examine the witnesses.”
Mr Hart, a director of Skee-Tex, said: “This has been a long running case which has now, happily, come to a great conclusion. I am thrilled at the result Tom has helped me achieve.”
The judge ruled in favour of Birkett Long’s client on all aspects and ordered the defendants to pay costs over £100,000. The court also ordered the defendants to make an interim payment (on account) of costs of £40,000.