Covid-19 & courtrooms: The AV kit redefining legal proceedings

The coronavirus and immigration are giving legal systems two more reasons to implement more AV technologies. Tim Kridel explores how vendors and integrators are responding to increased demand.

By this time next year,people around the UK will be able to walk into a nearby “Online Centre” and video chat with legal experts to help them navigate the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). That’s one of several AV-related initiatives in an October 2019 House of Commons Justice Committee report about the technologically dire state of the UK legal system.

The report reads like a laundry list of business opportunities for AV firms: “Between 2010 and 2018,half of magistrates’ courts closed,along with more than one third of county courts. These closures have created alarming difficulties for many court users, who are now expected to travel too far to attend court and to spend too many hours of their days or weeks in doing so.“Existing court buildings are dilapidated and sometimes lack the basics, such as facilities for disabled users.

This is unacceptable and must be addressed. The interests of justice are not served by unreliable video equipment and Wi-Fi facilities throughout the criminal courts estate; HMCTS must expedite planned investment upgrading these.”

If these laments sound familiar, that’s because they’ve been raised in many other countries around EMEA and the rest of the world. For example,Germany doesn’t allow audio or video documentation of criminal trials, and video cameras are used only when witnesses can’t come to the courtroom.
"Even local outbreaks of the flu can shut down the courtroom.You still have the option of activating are mote session,even if that’s not your preferred/primary use." - Joe Andrulis, Biamp
“However, the Federal Ministry of Justice is examining whether anything should change in this situation,” says Ali Norouzi, a defence lawyer and member of the German Bar Association’s criminal law committee, and an expert on AV documentation of criminal processes. “In particular,the criminal defence attorneys feel that the documentation deficit is no longer up to date.”

In Germany and other countries, barriers to adoption typically include privacy concerns and questions about whether the legal process would be fundamentally changed.

“The greatest challenges of such a documentation are seen in the effects on the procedure,”Norouzi says. “In particular, it is feared that this could change the nature of the appeal law.

“During the appeal, the content of the taking of evidence is irrelevant and must not be reconstructed. It is feared that this could change if the revision courts are able to check the evidence of the main hearing.”Even when there is consensus,limited budgets often stand in the way.

“On the part of the judiciary and judicial administration, it is objected that everyone involved could live well with the existing system and that the money should be used elsewhere,” Norouzi says. “This argument in particular is not very convincing.”

Could the coronavirus be a game-changer?

The coronavirus might wind up overcoming a lot of long standing objections and scepticism.For example, video can keep offenders, expert witnesses and a lot of other people out of courtrooms.In fact, video arraignments and depositions were among the recommendations in Epidemics and the California Courts,published by the state’s judicial council in 2006 in the wake of the bird flu.

The difference this time is degree. Just as COVID-19’s cancellation of major trade shows has many companies seriously considering virtual alternatives as a permanent option, the coronavirus could prompt many attorneys and judges to reconsider their scepticism.“.

Even local outbreaks of the flu 
can shut down the courtroom,”says Joe Andrulis, Biamp EVP of corporate development. “You still have the option of activating a remote session, even if that’s not your preferred/primary use. So it does provide a great contingency option, as well.“I think that some of the recent things going on are going to provide even more energy behind that. It gives people one 

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