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27/03/2020

Scottish appeals directorate looks to Skype as traditional hearings ditched

Words: Roger Milne
Skype / Shutterstock_279916193

Scotland’s Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) has insisted that its local development plan and appeals casework will continue, albeit that written representations will become the norm during the coronavirus outbreak.

It also will make use of technology such as Skype to facilitate hearings and inquiries. But all planned site visits are postponed with immediate effect.

The DPEA offices in Falkirk are now closed until further notice. Email communication remains in place.

It has confirmed that no form of oral procedure as previously understood will be undertaken in line with government advice on travel and distancing as the UK grapples with the coronavirus crisis.

“We will use written procedure, where possible,” it stressed. 

However, the directorate has announced it will continue with oral procedures where it is possible to adapt those procedures so that they can be conducted remotely by communications technology. 

“The decisions on how oral procedures will be adapted are for the reporters to make in each case.”

The directorate has also said the public local inquiry could be a mix of written representations combined with a virtual meeting.

It acknowledged that “conducting any form of examination-in-chief, cross-examination and re-examination remotely is extremely difficult and less satisfactory than it would be in one physical location".

But if such arrangements prove to be impossible because of the scale involved, proposed hearings will be “sisted” i.e. suspended.

The DPEA said: “We recognise the importance of local participation, which becomes harder in the current exceptional circumstances. We recognise that a public local inquiry in certain circumstances is a legal entitlement.

“We urge parties and their representatives to acknowledge the public interest in finding ways to achieve the outcomes shared by us all in delivering our services in working with us to make public local inquiries (so operated) as fair and transparent as possible, even if progressing these by written representations alone would involve the waiving of an entitlement to a public local inquiry.”

It added: “On local participation, participants are reminded that even virtual presence is not always essential, where we are able to maintain our ability to webcast proceedings, as DPEA will endeavour to do if possible.”

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