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Accessing virtual justice: the way of the future?

Accessing virtual justice: the way of the future?

An Australian technology start-up is quietly proving that real-time virtual hearings are possible, as long as the right person-to-person conferencing solutions are deployed.Given the sheer…

An Australian technology start-up is quietly proving that real-time virtual hearings are possible, as long as the right person-to-person conferencing solutions are deployed.

Given the sheer vastness of Australian states and territories, getting all the parties which are involved in a hearing into a courtroom or mediation can be a complex procedure.

Connecting lawyers, barristers, jurors, witnesses and judges who might travel from all different locations, be it interstate or simply homebound, is a difficult prospect. Throw in the need for a translator or sign-language expert and things get even more complex - and expensive.

But the director of a small Australian technology startup believes he has found the solution to solve such complexities and save millions of dollars in justice expenditure in the process.

Evidence Technology, a company providing desktop and home based video conferencing solutions to the legal sector, is proving that the concept of a "virtual hearing" is very much possible today with the right setup. And director and group manager Peter Carter is determined to prove that Evidence has established what such a setup actually involves by running simple online demonstrations.

According to Carter, once Evidence commenced the demonstrations around three months ago to law firms, translation agencies and some state-based government organisations, the legal sector got a small taste of just what an effective conferencing setup could offer.

"The thing that has been telling is that people tend to not talk about the technology, but the application of the technology, which in itself, is really what we have discovered is why it really works," he says.

Evidence demonstrates their "Justice Portal" by stringing together a number of different parties and asking them to work from different locations - such as offices, a home PC or laptop - and connecting them via a standard ADSL connection or G3 device.

Evidence then asks a mock arbitrator or judge to manage the meeting with councils potentially presenting their cases from their own home offices, and protected witnesses able to provide statements anonymously from a private meeting room at an undisclosed location.

Silent observers or even jurors can also be present in the virtual meeting, with participants able to share evidence and documentation in any format across the conference session. Even more impressive is the fact that an unseen translator can step into the session via high-definition video and audio - offering translators an enhanced ability to do their work by being able to clearly hear and see the person speaking.

This means that hand signing can also be implemented to allow for sessions that include deaf persons to be translated.

And just to ensure a real-time transcript is available to the parties and the judge, the session allows for a work-from-home stenographer to also be silently involved.

Evidence records these sessions via what it label as a "heavily encrypted proprietary solution" - allowing the content to be streamed in various formats and to myriad devices including mobile phones, laptops and iPods.

Carter believes the cost saving the solution could offer the justice system could be enormous - especially by reducing the reliance on transcribed evidence. He points out the recent access to justice report released by the Federal Attorney-General, noting that legal aid and community based services could be the primary beneficiaries of such technology.

"In actual fact I think it's hard for them [the government] to come up with practical solutions for improving access to justice, but if you can take it to people's living rooms, deliver it via the PC that kids play their games on, then all sorts of possibilities open up," he says.

"The community is well primed for this, now that people have gone out and bought technology, it's surprising but I think the average household is equipped with so much that is needed to participate."

With a typical court transcript often running to more than a hundred pages - each potentially costing thousands of dollars to produce and little actually utilised - Carter claims the Evidence portal can also eliminate the manual and slow processes involved by enabling analysis, data mining and automation of such transcripts once the matter has been completed.

While the technology relies upon a number of different video conferencing solutions that can be enabled on desktops, laptops and portable mobile devices, Evidence is prioritising the use of VidyoConferencing - a new solution that utilises personal "telepresence" capabilities to offer an enhanced experience to users.

Evidence's videoconferencing Justice Portal is very much available for the legal sector to examine just how it can be used and where - but the extent of its rollout will eventually come down to the judiciary.

"This is enabling technology that will allow those things to happen in the future," says Carter.

"But I do say the judiciary will have a major say in to what extent these things can be conducted."

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