– Thanks To Zoom, Justice Can Be Seen, And Heard, To Be Done
A good article in The Atlantic, “Zoom Court Is Changing How Justice Is Served”, explains how lockdown has led to huge changes to the US legal system through the use of videoconferencing via Zoom for an increasing number of trials, and how this has led many judges, prosecutors and lawyers — to argue that once the pandemic is over, the whole system should continue to operate in this way, and move to videoconferencing all trials, where appropriate.
Adapting to the disruption caused by the pandemic illustrates the problems and dynamics common to such transitions: from early episodes such as the now mythical cattorney unable to deactivate the cat filter on his webcam during a trial, to the opposition among some professionals alleging all kinds of complications or the lack of means of some of their clients, including those circumstances when a trial should not be held via videoconference such as cases involving domestic violence, for example, when it cannot be assured that the victim is not being subjected to pressures outside the camera’s field of vision, etc.
But in practice, after a year of trials carried out through Zoom, the vast majority of judges, prosecutors and lawyers now see that avoiding the friction of physical processes such as having to travel to courts and instead being able to appear from anywhere through a camera speeds up hearings, and that this makes for a more efficient justice system while addressing the huge backlog of cases awaiting trial.
What were initially complications due to unfamiliarity with the technology soon led to faster, simpler trials with shorter waiting times, and that delivered faster justice. Yes, it’s true that the digital divide will prevent some defendants from access to a computer, but the potential benefits of using this technology are beyond dispute. We have passed the tipping point, and anybody who opposes using video conferencing for trials will soon find themselves left behind.
The change might have been forced on us, but it should be consolidated once the pandemic is over, given the clear advantages of videoconferencing. Without the force majeure of the pandemic, such a reform would have taken much longer to happen, if at all. Society now needs to grasp that the pandemic provides a perfect opportunity to implement advances in processes such as digital transformation. Let’s hope that examples similar to this one will spread to many other fields of activity.