Jurisdictions from Argentina to Uganda to Bangladesh are among those turning to online courts in order to keep their justice systems going during the pandemic, according to reports collected by a UK clearing house. The Remote Courts Worldwide initiative says it has received information about remote courts in more than 40 countries.
The initiative, set up by the Society for Computers and Law (SCL), the UK LawTech Delivery Panel, and Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service, is led by Professor Richard Susskind, author and technology adviser to the lord chief justice.
According to the SCL, analysis of the reports received so far suggests that:
- Technology has enabled courts to stay open – access to justice is being maintained around the world during the crisis by the wide deployment of video hearings and audio hearings.
- The technologies being used are widely accessible to all – for example, Zoom and Skype, along with conventional telephone conferencing.
- There are variations in formality - contrast a laid-back Chilean arraignment hearing with the insistence of a senior Chinese judge that a sense of ritual must be maintained.
- Judges are taking a robust approach - a Court of Protection case in England went ahead on Skype, because the judge felt that it would have been extremely risky to convene conventionally. An Australian judge refused an application for an adjournment, supporting the applicants’ argument that a fair trial could not in that case be held by video.
- The work of the courts has become more transparent - the pandemic has accelerated a trend of making proceedings more widely available to the wider public via the web.
The next phase in the initiative will focus on inviting and presenting feedback from around the world – from court users, lawyers, and judges - about how remote courts are working in practice. One aim is to inform policymakers when they come to consider the long-term implications of the current changes for the future of their courts.
Susskind said: 'This second phase of our service is vital – to find out what is working well and what is not. Remote courts are here to stay and we must work hard, in light of concrete experience, to improve their performance.'