The Court is Now in (Virtual) Session: How Remote Services are Transforming the Judicial System

Courtroom bench in a wood panneled courtroom.

Courtroom bench in a wood panneled courtroom. iStock.com/JasonDoiy

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | The judicial system has been slow to adopt technologies, but the Covid-19 crisis has initiated a digital transformation that is here to stay.

Stability and predictability are fundamental to “the rule of law,” and are strengthened by the judicial adherence to precedence. While the judicial system thrives on these concepts, they have also imposed a rigidity that can make it difficult to keep pace with evolving technology and adapt to unconventional or unforeseen circumstances.

When Covid-19 hit, judicial systems worldwide were forced to rethink their operations and embrace emergency digital methods. The courts that had explored technological improvements prior to the pandemic thrived. For instance, Elkhart County, Indiana was able to quickly adapt to remote operations because it was already equipped with a secure videoconferencing network infrastructure. Adopting the software enabled the county’s civil, family law and even some pretrial criminal proceedings to take place with most of the participants connecting remotely. As a result, its courtrooms were able to reduce the number of cases that would have been backlogged.

However, most courts that hadn’t made these digital improvements struggled to quickly improve the technology acquisition process, quality and use of shared data—a transformation that often takes years. For example, a patent case in Texas resulted in a mistrial in November because several jurors became infected with Covid-19 after several days in court. The judge then postponed all jury trials through at least March 2021, in response to the coronavirus spike and infections that spread at another jury trial in the same district.

Despite these difficulties, the benefits of remote court are undeniable. In many cases, remote court is boosting access to justice by making it easier for participants to appear. People no longer have to take a day off from work to appear for a hearing that lasts less than an hour and a half. Before the pandemic, this was something both courts and citizens found extremely disruptive, forcing some people to choose to accept criminal charges that can come with missing mandatory hearings rather than miss work and forego their earnings for the day.

Remote hearings have especially relieved a burden on lawyers, who often must appear in front of multiple judges and move from different court rooms and court houses throughout the day. In fact, the amount of time saved by conducting virtual hearings has actually allowed some courts, like Elkhart County, to clear the backlog from before the pandemic. For that reason alone, many judges believe some remote proceedings will remain in place even after pandemic restrictions start to ease.

However, for continued, long-term success of remote court, officials will need to address issues of cost, security and reliability.

The judicial sector is one of the most underfunded and overburdened government sectors, largely because of the lack of resources and increasing number of cases. While software upgrades can be costly upfront, it can ultimately help eliminate the escalating operational expenses that come with conducting court in person.

More importantly, a secure and reliable network is absolutely necessary. Given the confidential and personal legal information exchanged during remote hearings, they pose a prime opportunity for cyberattacks and data breaches. This shows that not only do courts need to equip themselves with a secure telepresence platform, but one that is specifically engineered to facilitate conversations with highly confidential information.

The same goes for reliability. Case in point, a mishap in Texas where an attorney was stuck arguing a case with a cat filter on, clearly demonstrates how certain platforms might be better equipped for professional and legal situations while others are best for virtual happy hours and yoga classes. Absent a reliable network, a host of mishaps can occur, like losing video or audio connection, which can dramatically affect the outcome of a case.

While a person’s day in court may look vastly different today than it did a year ago, the opportunity still exists thanks to connected technologies. In the coming months, expect to see an increasing amount of courts implement connected telepresence solutions that speed up docket reduction through secure real-time virtual court proceedings.

Daniel Stewart is a senior advisor of justice at Cisco. Prior to joining Cisco, Stewart served as chairman and commissioner of the New York State Commission of Correction.

NEXT STORY: Georgia Senate Approves Bill to Ease Gun Restrictions

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.