An experimental mock e-trial has been conducted by a collection of judges from three different continents in order to assess whether digital courts might have a future. The concept is considered to have particularly strong potential in the arena of international dispute resolution, but is not being ruled out for criminal and civil cases either.
The experiment, which has been hailed as a success, saw participants viewing the trial on two screens. One was used to display live video of the trial, while the other displayed documents relevant to the case. The trial was hosted by CaseLines, a UK-based company specialising in electronic court bundling.
The mock trial that was conducted in order to test the e-trial setup was chaired by a British judge from the Birmingham Civil Justice Centre, His Honour Simon Brown. South Eastern Circuit Judge John Tanzer also participated in the role of the apellant’s counsel. The appellant was played by Herbert Dixon, a Superior Court judge from Washington, USA. The role of the counsel for the defendant, meanwhile, was filled by New Zealand judge David Harvey.
According to Brown, both time and money could be saved if the digital system is adopted in some cases to replace the “inordinately” long paper process that is currently used. He also pointed to the Mitchell regime and its tightened interpretation of issues related to cost budgeting, suggesting that this made the need for such cost-saving measures particularly strong. Brown also added that, in monetary terms, the system would be within the reach of small businesses.
Harvey expressed similar opinions on the e-trial concept and the results of the mock e-trial itself. He stressed the potential for cost-saving in the resolution of international disputes, as well as the potential for “considerable advantages” in some domestic cases.
Tanzer was also positive about the system, suggesting that it could result in “better use of judicial and practitioner time” when compared to the current system. He also said that many already recognise that such remote access systems could make justice more accessible in criminal cases.
Tanzer went on to point out that a large part of the necessary hardware is already in place or accessible. He added that “This is something you can use through a mobile phone. The video technology might even be better than using some computers.”
Brown, meanwhile, suggested that early adoption of such systems “could put Birmingham [Civil Justice Centre] on the map,” and all that would be needed is for the necessary Wi-Fi connection to be provided by HM Courts and Tribunal Service.