Video Conferencing In Courtrooms: The New Reality for the Sustainability of Court Hearings

INTRODUCTION


The evolution of Technology in recent years has led to the incorporation of technological inventions in various fields to ensure ease in once cumbersome tasks and the legal profession is not left out. The rise of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has created convenient and effective means of communication with factors such as distance no longer serving as a barrier. Video conferencing involves a technology that allows people from various locations to hold meetings as a group without having to converge in the same room physically. This paper examines the factors that necessitate the use of video conferencing in the courtroom as well as the advantages of the use of video conferencing in the courtroom and suggestions for the development of video conferencing technology.


FACTORS NECESSITATING THE USE OF VIDEO CONFERENCING


A number of factors have necessitated the use of video conferencing in courtrooms. One of such factors is the potential danger of courtroom violence. On April 21, 2014, Siale Angilau was shot dead by a United States Marshal in a Federal courtroom in Utah after he (the defendant) attempted to attack a witness in the courtroom with a pen1. In 2019 in Thailand, a defendant involved in a land dispute shot and killed the plaintiff and he’s (the plaintiff’s) lawyer in the courtroom before he was fatally shot by an officer on duty2. These events are only some of the numerous cases of courtroom violence. The use of video-conferencing in the courtroom could help in eradicating this problem by ensuring that all parties to a case take part in the court process as well as present their key witnesses through the use of video conferencing. This would go a long way in eliminating courtroom violence.

Another factor that has necessitated the use of video conferencing in the courtroom is the famous COVID-19 Pandemic. Over the last ten months, various countries around the world have been placed under different lockdown restrictions to contain the spread of the Corona virus. Though countries have begun the gradual lifting of lockdown measures, various sectors still struggle in terms of adapting to what has become the new normal in terms of human interactions. The courtrooms were not exempted from this as various courtrooms were closed in order to contain the spread of the virus. The holding of court hearings via video conferencing has therefore become inevitable.

BENEFITS OF VIDEO CONFERENCING IN COURTROOMS


The use of video conferencing in the courtroom would be beneficial for the progress of the legal system. As stated above, not only would it be a lasting solution to the problem of courtroom violence, but it would also help in the reduction of transportation costs for the accused in criminal matters. Governments are usually faced with logistical difficulties as well as exorbitant expenses when it comes to the transportation of key witnesses and defendants who are under detention to the courtroom. This usually involves an army of escort officers and a fleet of highly secured vehicles. These expenses however become unnecessary with the use of video conferencing. Detainees can attend their court hearings virtually and be afforded fair hearing without being physically present in the courtroom. The use of video conferencing would also be instrumental in ensuring faster court hearings as the court no longer has to wait on the arrival of key witnesses who are expected from far and wide but can easily connect with them through video conferencing3. Witnesses would also be more willing to give accurate testimonies when they are sure of the fact that they do not face possible and imminent physical threats and intimidation.


CHALLENGES FACING THE USE OF VIDEO CONFERENCING


Although the use of video conferencing brings with it a truckload of benefits, it is not without hindrances. One of the biggest challenges for actualizing the use of video conferencing in courtrooms is the lack of adequate funding. Funding is essential for the purchase and furnishing of courtrooms with technological equipments needed for video conferencing such as monitors, web cameras, swift internet connections and others. Also, some legal practitioners who are not technologically oriented might face problems in adapting to the use of video conferencing due to the lack of patience as well as technical know-how which is much needed for the use of this technology.

However, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to the use of video conferencing and State governments in conjunction with governing bodies of legal practitioners can work hand in hand for the purpose of addressing these issues.


AVAILABLE TECHNOLOGIES FOR VIDEO CONFERENCING


Having explained the need for video conferencing and its advantages, the question regarding technology for this purpose arises. From the popular Zoom application, to Google meet, Skype, GoToMeeting and a plethora of others, various applications that can be used for this purpose exist. These applications are also user-friendly and cost effective. The Zoom application for example, has the maximum capacity to host a meeting consisting one thousand participants with an enterprise plan for a license that costs $199.90 (USD) per year.4 The expertise of technologically savvy individuals can also be employed to assist the court with connections via video conferencing.


TRANSITING FROM VIDEO CONFERENCING TO 3D VIRTUAL REALITY COURTROOMS


With the increasing rate of technological inventions, the future might hold the possibility of a transition from the use of video conferencing to 3D virtual reality courtrooms. According to Mitch Jackson, a senior partner at Jackson & Wilson, a law firm based in California in 2017, “I believe that in 10 years, most trial lawyers will be using virtual reality like they are using their laptops today. Virtual reality will be the norm, not the exception.”5 When it comes to the use of virtual reality in the courtroom, the possibilities are limitless. In about 15 years, virtual reality might just be the reason for the extinction of physical courts. Virtual reality ensures a sense of presence which allows participants to witness every move of the parties involved the proceeding as well as move around the virtual courtroom freely.


RECOMMENDATIONS


It is recommended that governments make provisions for the funding and furnishing of courtrooms with video conferencing equipments. Technological innovations such as the development of virtual reality courtrooms should also be encouraged through adequate funding of research works. Governing bodies of legal practitioners are also encouraged to undergo technological trainings for their members to ensure the smooth operation of video conferencing in the courtroom.


SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

With the use of video conferencing and the subsequent development of virtual reality courtrooms, all parties involved in court proceedings tend to benefit immensely. The plaintiff has the opportunity to bring his case before the court, the right of the defendant to fair hearing is upheld, the lawyers are afforded the opportunity to present cases for their clients, witnesses can give their testimonies without fear or intimidation and governments can rid themselves of unnecessary expenses incurred during the transportation of detainees and key witnesses to the courtroom. With technology, it is a win-win situation for everyone.

1 BBC. (2014, April 22). US defendant shot dead by officers in courtroom attack. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-27106445

2 Reuters. (2019, December 9). Three dead in Thai court shooting as ex-policeman fires on accusers. Euronews. Retrieved from https://www.euronews.com/2019/11/12/three-dead-in-thai-court-shooting-as-ex-policeman-fires-on-accusers

3 Bell. P. (2019, October 1). Courtroom Video Conferencing: All Log On for the Judge. MegaMeeting. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/www.megameeting.com/news/the-rise-of-courtroom-video-conferencing/amp/

4 Retrieved from https://zoom.us/pricing

5 Kaufman. B. (2017, November 19). The Next Frontier for Virtual Reality: Courtrooms. Bloomberg Law. Retrieved from https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/the-next-frontier-for-virtual-reality-courtrooms

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