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Will Australia see court cases in the metaverse?

Recently, a Colombian court case was heard in the metaverse. The president of the Law Council of Australia (LCA) reflects on how such hearings might emerge in Australia and the associated benefits and drawbacks. 

user iconJess Feyder 27 February 2023 The Bar
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The Colombian court case saw participants using virtual reality headsets and interacting via avatars. It was held in Spanish and was presided over by the magistrate of the Administrative Court of Magdalena, María Victoria Quiñones Triana. 

Recently, lawyers noted that the use of ChatGPT in the court system should be approached with caution.

LCA president Luke Murphy commented on whether such hearings might be held in Australia in the future. 


“While the Law Council of Australia is not aware of any court cases being heard in this way to date, or plans to do so, our courts and tribunals have undergone a significant shift to online proceedings. 

“Many of these changes were the result of restrictions implemented due to COVID, and now these restrictions have been lifted, we must assess and build on the experience gained,” he said.

“There is no doubt that there is a place for online hearings.”

“For example, a survey of federal judges by the University of NSW’s Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession stream found judges felt there was a continued role for remote proceedings, particularly for shorter or procedural matters, and that they hadn’t encountered significant difficulties in ensuring procedural fairness.”

Mr Murphy also noted that the increased use of technology to undertake court and tribunal functions has resulted in efficiency and administrative savings.  

“Shifts towards online proceedings — especially electronic court lodgements and interlocutory matters — are seen as having a positive impact overall in terms of time and cost efficiencies to legal practitioners and their clients,” explained Mr Murphy. “This is especially so for rural, regional and remote practitioners and clients.”

“Online appearances also have positive impacts for those practitioners or individuals where work and/or carer commitments, location or disability or other health needs would prevent or make it difficult for them to attend proceedings in person.”

Mr Murphy also discussed potential downfalls in the use of online hearings. 

“Reliance on online hearings and virtual transactions can have drawbacks in some instances, and not all legal proceedings or corporate interactions will be suited to attendance by audio-visual technology. 

“There are simply some legal proceedings that must be conducted in a face-to-face environment,” he said. 

Mr Murphy explained that one way the Law Council has dealt with uncertainties and risks posed by the use of technology in court proceedings is “to think about those inalienable principles we want to protect”.

“The right of an accused person to a fair trial must be maintained,” he asserted. “In a criminal trial, the accused and/or his or her legal representatives should always appear physically in court other than with the consent of the accused to not do so.”

“Online proceedings may benefit some members of our community, but for others, a shift online could limit or even prevent access to justice.” 

“The Law Council considers it critical that online courts and online dispute resolution initiatives and technological responses to the delivery of legal and justice services take into account the digital exclusion of people who have limited access to technology and reliable internet connections or lack the skills to utilise technology and online services,” he stated.

Mr Murphy noted that people affected by this issue are likely to include older persons, people experiencing homelessness or poverty, and people living in regional, rural, and remote areas.

Mr Murphy also outlined that federal courts and the legal profession must ensure they are skilled to keep up with changes. 

“Guidance materials and training [must be further developed] in areas of: technological competency for judicial officers and court staff; standard practice directions for the use of technology at all levels; guidelines for legal practitioners to ensure that appropriate levels of connectivity are utilised; and protocols for practitioners/litigants/witnesses dialling in to remote court events,” he said.

“Cost savings and convenience to authorities should only be a factor where they do not affect the above rights and principles.”