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Problems and Solutions for Court Videoconferencing

Court Tech Bulletin: Problems and Solutions for Court Videoconferencing “A BuzzFeed News article brought to our attention a report done on the use of videoconferencing in the Courts of the United Kingdom and Wales.  We share some notes from the articles and discuss our potential technology solutions and other resources below. An article was posted on BuzzFeed News titled “This Man Had To Defend Himself Without A Lawyer Via Videolink With Terrible Audio. He Lost.” It was based on a report from the “charity Transform Justice” that goes into more detail that we will discuss below. The article describes a UK Court of Appeal hearing in January 2016 presided over by Dame Julia Wendy Macur. The defendant, Folarin Oyebola was “appealing a confiscation order of a property” from prison.  He was quoted as saying: ‘It was horrible,” he recalled. “[The judge] didn’t understand what I was saying at all. It was like speaking into a hollow chamber. I was shouting and it kept echoing back.”

The Report – The article is based upon a report (PDF) titled, “Defendants on video – conveyor belt justice or a revolution in access? by Penelope Gibbs, published in October 2017.  The report goes into much more and better detail and is recommended reading.  I have attempted a summary of the summary section of the report here:

1. The use of video hearings has increased “with little scrutiny or consultation”.  They note that there was “no data on the number of video court hearings held, or for what purpose”.
2. Next, “(t)here is no research on the effect of appearing on video on a defendants’ ability to participate, on their relationship with their lawyer or probation officer, and on perceptions of a jury or judge.”
3. They further allege with little evidence (one study) that “defendants who appeared on video from police stations were more likely to get prison sentences and less likely to get community sentences.”
4. Interviews for the report “suggests that appearing on video can increase defendants’ feelings of isolation and stress. Alarm bells are ringing particularly loud about the use of video for people with mental health problems, learning disabilities, and autism.”
5. And, “(t)his report suggests ways to improve the way video hearings work. But to make the system fit for purpose would cost millions – millions the MoJ does not have. And the outcomes in terms of justice (sentencing and remand decisions) may always be more punitive for those appearing on video. So is it worth it? If cost saving is the over-riding objective of the move to video hearings, the jury is still out on whether they save money now. It may well be more expensive to create a virtual court that works properly than to use existing physical courts.”
The report was based upon an online survey that received responses on each question from at least 180 persons, telephone interviews with eight of the online respondents, and a round table discussion with the courts and other experts that was held on July 5, 2017.”

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