In May, the Illinois Supreme Court significantly revised its rules related to remote proceedings – including court appearances, video conferences, and civil trials. These changes aim to improve the administration of justice by increasing efficiency and decreasing costs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes became effective immediately.
First, Supreme Court Rule 185 was repealed. This rule governed remote appearances at non-testimonial court proceedings in civil cases at the trial court level. It permitted remote appearances only for arguments on a motion or the discussion of a case, and only by a party’s request. A new rule, Rule 45, now governs remote access to courts. Rule 45 grants Illinois courts broad discretion to allow parties to partake in any non-testimonial court proceeding remotely. Committee Comments to Rule 45 encourage courts to liberally grant requests to appear remotely when obstacles to appearing exist. This includes distance from the court, difficulty traveling, military service, incarceration, hospitalization or illness, disability, health or mobility limitations, work or childcare obligations or responsibilities, or limited court operations.
Rule 45 also permits remote appearances upon request or on the court’s own order. This change allows the court to unilaterally order remote appearances without a request from any party. Additionally, the requestee need not be a party to the case in order to request access to appear remotely. Rule 45 also allows the court to decide which party should bear the costs of remote conferencing. But, it requires the court to take any action necessary to ensure such costs are not a barrier to access.
Changes reflected in Rule 46 broaden the definition of an electronic recording system. This allows video conferences to become the official record of a court proceeding. Practically speaking, this change permits court reporters to make an official transcript from a video conference hearing.
Finally, amendments to Rule 241 permit case participants to testify in a civil trial or evidentiary hearing by video conferencing for good cause shown and upon appropriate safeguards. Prior to this change, remote testimony in a civil trial or evidentiary hearing was permitted only in compelling circumstances for good cause shown and upon appropriate safeguards. Case participants include the judge, parties, lawyers, witnesses, experts, interpreters, treatment providers, and court reporters.
If video conferencing is unavailable, the court may permit case participants to testify via telephone conference in compelling circumstances for good cause shown and upon appropriate safeguards. Pursuant to Committee Comments, good cause can arise in unforeseeable circumstances, such as an accident, illness, or limited court operations, or in foreseeable circumstances, such as residing out of state.
Amended Rule 241 also allows the trial court to unilaterally order remote appearances and mandate that the cost of remote participation not be a barrier to access the courts.
The Court’s overhaul of rules related to remote proceedings will significantly impact all types of litigation in Illinois. However, they will specifically impact the thousands of toxic tort cases currently pending in Illinois. Toxic tort cases in Illinois tend to have numerous corporate defendants not necessarily located within the state. These changes allow for more corporate client participation in the litigation process without any burdensome travel costs. However, the changes also might decrease in-person proceedings and meetings, which generally assist in moving cases forward.