The Elephant in the courtroom
From a technology point of view, the elephant in today’s courtroom is of course the paperwork. Most courts are still drowning in the stuff, when the rest of the world has gone digital. This has a huge cost. How much court time is wasted chasing up urgent faxes or rescheduling hearings because vital documents are missing?
eFiling and eTrial systems are of course the natural solution, and have been implemented to great effect in some advanced jurisdictions. It’s a long and challenging road, but over the next 10 years, eFiling will become standard for all courts. Smaller matters will be fully paperless, while larger, more complex matters will have much less paper.
inCourt Mission Control
Magistrates and judges in local criminal courts are under enormous pressure to dispose cases quickly. In most jurisdictions, they still manage their court lists with paper case files. Until now, inCourt control systems have not been sufficiently responsive to computerise this process.
Busy magistrates need highly responsive, integrated control systems to manage their caseload electronically. This will finally be achieved with touchscreen control panels, incorporating voice recognition technology to capture case notes and decisions in real time. Document displays will be hyper responsive, allowing judges and other court staff to peruse documents at high speed.
When a decision is made, the case management system will be updated and the case moved forward, for example the next hearing will be automatically scheduled, the order electronically created and dispatched etc. The outcome will already be available online before the next case is heard.
Court audio and video recordings will be managed by these systems and the recorded segment will be automatically attached to the case file.
eBenefits for Court Users
Court users will benefit from real-time case status screens, sms and other digital notifications of session times, and orders immediately available for them as they leave the courtroom.
When eFiling is fully implemented and courts offer wifi, legal representatives and court users can abandon their paperwork and use electronic devices to run their cases in court. They will use tablets initially, but these may be replaced by Google Glass and other wearable technologies.
They can view and share documents and other electronic files with the court in real time, providing all parties simultaneous access to the current documents, all within a controlled security framework.
Video links are increasingly used to avoid the logistical difficulties of transporting offenders to and from courts. Remote witness facilities spare vulnerable witnesses the trauma of fronting the court, and court proceedings are video recorded.
Over the next 10 years as the NBN rolls out, video facilities will become a standard courtroom resource, like turning on the lights. The use of video will be extended, allowing barristers and other parties to attend hearings remotely, connecting from video-enabled desktop applications. More public court hearings will be streamed live.
Hearings will be streamed live to off-site translation, court reporter and transcription service providers. This will be particularly useful for smaller courts who may have difficulty in finding specialist resources. And it may not be long before voice recognition technology improves sufficiently to compliment the virtual transcription service providers. Then hearings can be fully transcribed in real time and attached to the case file. And one day, the technology will be fast enough to translate languages in real time.
Reducing the Workload
More powerful case management systems will automatically grind through the routine procedural, uncontested aspects of the justice process, shepherding litigants and defendants, their representatives and police along the path. These systems will automatically request missing documents, schedule hearings where preconditions are met, send reminders and notifications, and reduce the need for multiple mention dates and routine, administrative hearings. Defendants in minor cases will enter their plea online. Parties will interact online with comprehensive, real-time case data and processes.
Across Justice Integration
Data integration across police, courts, corrections and other justice agencies is a continuing challenge. Standards are finally enabling the end-to-end criminal justice service to share real-time offender identification and order information, and this will be completed over the coming decade.
This will have many benefits for the wider justice services, reducing public risk and providing for example traces and reports on cases from police detection and investigation through court determination to outcome and corrections enforcement.
Much greater access to justice data will also be provided for interested external parties such as NGOs.
Security and Performance
Technology platforms of course can never be 100% secure, but then again, nor can physical courts and paper documents. Trade-offs will be inevitable, as will the continual battle to increase security. Court data and documents will stored in CIA-grade secure private clouds. inCourt platforms will be failsafe, even when power and networks fail, with battery back-up and stand-alone capability. Organic security technologies such as fingerprinting and retina scanners may be integrated with the court technology.
Courts in the Clouds
Civil courts will soon offer Online Dispute Resolution services where some simple, civil disputes will be resolved within a legal framework by the parties themselves, reducing the number of these cases that actually go to court.
And soon, routine cases with no jury will be heard in online courtrooms. The magistrate or judge will control the court, issue their decisions and dispose cases efficiently and cost effectively in virtual, video-enabled courtrooms.
Much of the court technology such as case management systems and virtual courtrooms will be rented by justice services from technology providers on a case volume basis.
So, we’ll keep looking into our crystal ball, and keep you posted about the technology we see in the courtroom of the future. Please let us know what technology you expect to see in the courtroom of 2023.