The future of the courts is greatly dependent on technology and how technology can improve their functioning.
According to Jeff Aresty (‘State Courts and the Transformation to Virtual Courts’ Litigation Spring 2013 vol 39(2) 50) there are three general categories of changes in courtroom technology:
• There are the technologies that legal representatives use to present evidence and arguments.
• The existence of electronic documents has fundamentally changed the discovery process.
• Lawyers can use new technology outside the courtroom to start their cases, maintain their cases and get word out about their cases. E-filing, social media and legal research have transformed the traditional work of lawyers.
A virtual court is a conceptual idea of a judicial forum that has no physical presence but still provides the same justice services that are available in courtrooms. Access to virtual courts would, however, be limited to online access, videoconferencing and teleconferencing.
Some of the greatest benefits of a virtual court are the cost savings and hours of service availability. Traditionally, courts are open to the public only on business days. This is, however, restrictive in that many litigants who need to access the courts also work on business days. Virtual courts can eliminate this barrier not only by allowing 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week access to electronic filing and other case processing online, but litigants will also be able to participate in trials by videoconference. No longer will litigants be forced to leave work to attend court as they will access proceedings from their home or office.
I submit that by utilising technology, courts have already reduced the need for people to access the courts physically. As video technology improves, courts are beginning to use it for postponements in criminal matters in order to reduce the costs of transporting accused from correctional facilities to courtrooms.
It is foreseeable that more courts will begin to use video technology to replace the need for appearances in court. In the future, trials may occur through videoconferencing with all parties’ securely accessing the court from locations of their choosing. Courts, as they are currently viewed, may become virtual and not require litigants or staff to attend court physically.
in order to implement virtual court procedures and case processing, existing case-management systems will need to be modified or replaced to allow for new technology and remote access.
It should, however, be noted that reporters of digital recording devices are sometimes unable to record statements because they are inaudible.
Some members of the legal profession may view these modern communication devices as a threat; others may dismiss them as mere gadgetry. It should, however, be viewed as an opportunity for imaginative and constructive use in furthering our goal of administering justice properly and promptly. Digitising of the legal world will not only improve access, but also change the way litigators practise law.
It should be noted that the legal representative and the courtroom will continue to play the lead roles; as cases are simply too difficult for computers to handle alone. The client needs understanding, responsiveness and advice that technology simply cannot provide.
It is evident that with these new tools, lawyers need to work harder than ever to stay abreast of changes in the practice of law.
This short report has summarised some of the pressures facing courtrooms such as the need to reduce costs, improve productivity and improve user experience. Both social and technological innovation is required to solve these problems, and design is one approach which could bring benefits. Other countries’ use of video technology shows promise, but is a change that requires a comprehensive understanding of the social and cultural impact, as well as the technological and legal effects.
A ‘design thinking’ approach would involve all courtroom stakeholders, observing their behaviours, work practices, recording their attitudes and working with them to swiftly prototype new concepts. Such an approach would be multidisciplinary, including not only the technical skills of engineers and architects but the input of criminal justice professionals, including lawyers and judges, expert groups such as translators and interpreters, prisoners and others.
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