The Future Of Courtrooms Post Pandemic
How have we adjusted our court systems so far, and how could we see them continue to change as we move forward?
Prior to 2021, courts ran almost exclusively in person. Witnesses, defendants, counsel, and judges would commune in one space to try the case. Although the system had changed very little in recent years, there were plans to introduce video and phone technology to courtroom proceedings as a way to make them more accessible.
Despite these technologies being introduced, they were still rarely used, and the system for implementing them was not necessarily as smooth as it could have been.
Little did we know that these technologies would become integral in court proceedings, kickstarting modernisation.
The Current Challenge
As a result of the pandemic, individuals have been unable to meet in person and therefore the judicial sector has had to adapt quickly and adopt new video and audio technologies.
These technologies have worked well for certain types of dispute, including interim, procedural, and interlocutory hearings; routine family work; small money claims; minor criminal offences; commercial disputes; administrative tribunals; civil appeals; and more. This system allows for these cases, where there is no jury needed, to be carried out with minor disruption for those involved.
There have of course been growing pains with these systems, including remembering to mute microphones and connection issues, but we have seen incredible flexibility from those involved. Professionals in the judicial sector have made mistakes, learned, and adapted.
Jury trials, as it stands, appear to be an area of contention. Articles have come out raising concerns over the fairness of carrying out jury trials via video link, discussing the importance of being able to look someone in the eye and read all evidence accurately. The lack of research on this subject makes things even more difficult to predict – however, Scotland may have found a way to create a hybrid court for juries, which may be appropriate.
In Edinburgh’s Fort Kinnaird retail park, they have transformed an Odeon cinema to allow the jury to gather without compromising social distancing. All testimony and evidence is live streamed directly into the cinema, ensuring that jurors can have just as much of an in depth look at the case as when they’re attending in person.
This system may still be proven inadequate, as it makes it difficult to maintain the attention of the jury, as well as gauging and responding to their level of understanding, but it’s a huge step forward in being able to clear the backlog of court cases without compromising people’s health. Even without cinemas being able to host juries, the fact that such a large number of smaller cases can be heard online allows more space and time for cases that do require juries. The adaptation of this technology, as well as social expectations, is crucial for ensuring that the court systems can still work as they’re supposed to.
The backlog is also being aided by virtual hearings thanks to a lack of postponements due to external circumstances. As people can join the virtual courts from anywhere, and no longer need to make arrangements for work or childcare, there is far less likely to be delays in cases actually being heard.
As we become more familiar with video link technology, and it becomes more regularly used, the systems in place can only improve. If the current rate of advancement continues, it will be interesting to see where we are by the end of 2021.
What Will the Future Look Like?
Some of the major issues being faced in 2021 are the lack of accessibility for those who are older or have visual/hearing impairments, as well as handling jury trials.
As the technology improves and becomes more readily available, it seems inevitable that the quality of services such as CVP will become more reliable. The quality of video and audio equipment can cause major issues when it comes to hearing cases, especially if you have a jury involved; it is now becoming more common to have higher quality equipment available, and if courts and counsel are able to supply equipment to witnesses and jurors, it’s likely this issue will be eliminated.
Despite virtual hearings making courts more accessible for some, for those with visual or hearing impairments, it has become more difficult. Advancements in the technology we use for interpretation and voice descriptions of images could be crucial moving forward. There is already discussion on the development of closed captioning services for virtual hearings, and as this issue becomes more common there will only be new technology developed to help in this area.
Hybrid courts are another potential future norm. Even once the pandemic has subsided, it is unlikely that we will see courts revert back to all cases being heard in person. To avoid further delays due to personal circumstances, it’s likely that having witnesses appear virtually will remain a regular occurrence.
At the rate technology in this sector is developing, we can only imagine how streamlined the systems in place will be as we move past the pandemic – but what we do know is that it’s exciting to watch.
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