I had the wonderful experience of spending the last three hours working with the Chair of the Edmonton Region of the Alberta Mental Health Review Panel helping her virtualize her hearings.
The MHRP has a more complicated problem than a lot of tribunals in this time of social distancing. First, the people making applications before these hearings simply cannot wait longer. The prejudice is too high, and it is increased by the presence of the pandemic. Blanket adjournments are not an option.
Second, the hearings typically happen in medical facilities where there a lot of vulnerable people in tight proximity, who are ill, elderly, or both. Staying away from those places is critical for tribunal members, and lawyers, and for society in general.
So they must hold the hearings, and they must not go to the hospital to hold them. They also have many hearings a day (up to ~12), and the schedule is very hard to predict, and changes at the last minute. So strict start and finish times are a no-go. There is also no guarantee that all of the participants will have access to a computer with an internet connection, microphone and camera. But all should have access to a phone.
Here’s what we fell on as an easy short-term solution: Zoom with Dial-In and Waiting Room. Please share it in case it’s useful elsewhere.
What You Need
The tribunal needs a Zoom Pro account, so as to be able to take advantage of the phone-in options. It costs $20/month per “host”, which might translate to simultaneous chairpersons.
The chairperson and each person participating (panel member or party or witness), needs access to a device with a Zoom client (almost anything connected to the internet) or a phone.
What To Do To Set It Up
- Set up your Zoom account.
- In meeting settings, turn on waiting room.
- In meeting settings, turn on host and participant video.
- In meeting settings, turn on require password for joining by phone.
- In meeting settings, turn on “allow host to put attendee on hold”
- In recording settings, turn off recording. It’s not built for one-hearing-at-a-time recordings.
- Under telephone settings, set your region properly.
- Under telephone settings, indicate whether the invitation should show international call-in numbers.
- Create one meeting for an entire day of hearings. Set the date, the time, and the duration.
- Copy the invitation for that hearing, modify it and send it to all the people who have hearings on that date by the usual means.
A few tips for the invitations. If all of your participants are in a single region, you may be able to get away with a lot fewer call-in phone numbers than the system usually generates. Delete the extra phone numbers.
Also, make sure you advise people that when they call, they will be placed on hold immediately. This is normal. If previous hearings are running long, they may be on hold for quite some time. They will not be able to speak to one another through the Zoom meeting during this time. They will be updated as soon as the panel is free to let them in.
How to Run the Day’s Hearings
- The chairperson goes to Zoom and uses the “Start this meeting” command to start the meeting.
- When a hearing is scheduled to begin, “admit” the people from the waiting room who need to attend that hearing. If they are calling from a phone, you may need to take them “off hold” long enough to find out who they are, and then put them back “on hold” if they don’t need to join the next hearing.
- Hold the teleconference meeting.
- When it comes time to make a decision, place the parties “on hold” (or put them in the waiting room, if they are connected through Zoom clients), so that the panel can deliberate privately.
- For the decision, invite the parties back, deliver the decision, and then kick them out again. Proceed to #2 for the next hearing.
There is a lot more that Zoom is capable of doing with in terms of recordings, and user management, and the like. Not to mention file-sharing, screen-sharing, backgrounds, and all sorts of other features. Mutli-room meetings are also a way to potentially give the parties the opportunity to discuss things while the panel are deliberating in private, which would be nice.
But you can get the above up and running in about 30 minutes, and in another 30 minutes your chair person can know what they need to know to be able to administer the meeting.