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The end of courtrooms a virtual reality

Courtrooms could completely become a thing of the past as new technologies pave the way for virtual hearings.

user iconOlivia Collings 29 May 2009 The Bar
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COURTROOMS could completely become a thing of the past as new technologies pave the way for virtual hearings. 

UK justice secretary, Jack Straw, is an advocate of the system that would dispense the need for many criminals and victims to attend a courtroom. 


Using video links between police stations and magistrates' courts, defendant can be sentenced without ever entering a court building, The Times reports. 

In a recent test case, a man, who admitted drink-driving, was fined and banned from driving only hours after he was arrested, while a second case involving a man who refused to give a blood sample, was adjourned. The test cases took place at Charing Cross police station in London, which was linked to the Camberwell Green Court. 

The system could save the UK Government £10million (AUD$20m) a year, say ministers.  

But solicitors have raised concerns about whether the virtual courts will add to delays and increase the number of ineffective hearings. 

They also have fears about threats to their security from being seated next to defendants in a small room during sentencing. However, Straw said that instances of defendants attacking their own solicitors were “very rare indeed”. 

The virtual court hearings, he added, would not be held where magistrates decided that it was inappropriate, such as where people were mentally vulnerable. 

While some plaintiffs can refuse to take part in the virtual trial, Corners and Victims Bills would automatically be referred. 

Youths, the mentally ill and any cases involving more than one defendant are excluded from the scheme. 

By September 14 other police stations in South London and North Kent will be linked to courts, handling an estimated 15,000 cases a year. 

While Australian court rooms have introduced new technologies, none have gone as far as the UK trial so far. 

Law Institute of Victoria chief executive, Michael Brett Young, joked in a speech in March that in the next 100 years, the legal profession could see "unimaginable things", such as virtual courtrooms. 

“Will we have virtual courts, which could lead to virtual prison sentences which would no doubt lead to criticism by the virtual Herald Sun?” he said.

Whether virtual law goes that far no one knows, but virtually anything possible. 

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