COVID-19 Takes Justice to the Virtual Courtroom
As the saying goes “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine”. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced unprecedented haste upon global court systems to swiftly and proficiently adapt. Christening a brand new method of justice in the middle of a pandemic is no easy task. It’s been filled with trial and error, but many courts have discovered these new methods of delivering justice developed in a time of dire need are perhaps an improvement on a system notoriously known for enacting slow change.
Are these COVID-19 related virtual judicial proceedings happening globally?
Internationally, teleconferencing for judicial proceedings has been much more aggressive. When it comes to civil proceedings, many professionals in the judicial system are considering the benefits of keeping them fully remote after this pandemic eventually (hopefully) subsides.
This is exactly what London based Richard Susskind has spent decades advocating for. Susskind’s website Remote Courts Worldwide is one of his projects working towards the modernization of courts. According to Susskind, his work is dedicated "to help the global community of justice workers - judges, lawyers, court officials, litigants, court technologists - to share their experiences of 'remote' alternatives to traditional court hearings.” In an interview with ABC News 7 in Alameda, CA Susskind states, "It is unbelievable, isn't it, that more people have access to the internet in our world than have access to justice," he says. The article goes on, “Susskind tells me only ‘46% of people have realistic access to legal advice and the court system’."
How quickly are courts able to make these changes?
According to The National Law Review, during the first two weeks of April Texas state courts conducted more than 10,000 hearings through Zoom. In Michigan more than 50,000 Zoom hearings were conducted, with nearly 350,000 hours of online proceedings on YouTube. In Salt Lake City, Utah justice is served up ‘food truck’ style with a full sized-RV parked curbside, right outside the Salt Lake City Justice Court. This mobile courtroom/recreation vehicle allows defendants to maintain the CDC recommended 6 feet from a judge and a judicial assistant, while the prosecutor/defense attorneys appear virtually. And chances are where you live a virtual court system is already in use, or is being set up.
To many legal professionals, law experts and the majority of defendants and plaintiffs alike--moving to remote video and audio conferencing is the best way to protect everyone from judges, litigants and the public, while upholding constitutional responsibilities.
How was this volume possible so quickly in a system notorious for being slow?
The CARES Act previously passed, included a provision allowing for certain federal criminal proceedings such as arraignments and sentencing to occur remotely if the Judicial Conference of the United States finds that “the COVID-19 pandemic has materially affected federal courts' ability to function and if the chief judge of a federal court district authorizes the use of video conferencing.” (hklaw.com ) Since the Judicial Conference previously determined this, district courts are quickly responding to case backlogs with required authorizations to allow for this. Even the US Supreme Court is currently conducting a number of hearings through video conferencing.
Will remote court proceedings last?
According to an article in courthouse news late last month, three high ranking judges testified to Congress that Covid-19 was “the disruption needed to break with old norms and allow technology to open the judiciary to the public eye.” The piece goes on, “I don’t think we’re ever going back to where we were before,” Jeremy Fogel, executive director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute and former director of the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, told the House subcommittee that oversees the courts. As Courthouse News Service covered these hearings they reported, “all three judges said remote proceedings had been successful enough to continue the practice, rather than fully returning to old norms.” The speed by which courts are adapting on such a large, global scale is unprecedented. While the full impact of these rapid changes is yet to be determined, the lasting impact this will have in permanently reshaping the judicial system is seen by many, as a welcome advancement.
How did ABC Legal approach the challenge?
At ABC Legal we offer appearance counsel through our subsidiary company Docketly and we have the technology and mobile capabilities to easily adapt during this transformative judicial environment.
Docketly is uniquely positioned to handle the current judicial situation, as they’ve continued to operate through the use of video, audio calls, and in some cases maintaining a physical presence just outside the courthouse (in their vehicles) if/when physical presence is required for any reason. This partnership allows us to offer our customers the technology and mobile capabilities required during this transformative judicial environment. At ABC Legal we are constantly updating our technologies with proprietary AI, helping our customers make better decisions--faster.
About ABC Legal Services
ABC Legal is the nation’s leading process of service and court filing company and is the official process server to the U.S. Department of Justice. ABC Legal’s applications are cloud-based and compatible for use on desktop, browser and smartphones. Our solutions and digital approach ensure process server partners, law firm customers, and their clients save valuable time and resources when serving legal notices safely and with maximum compliance, control and transparency. ABC Legal is based in Seattle, WA with more than 2,000 process servers throughout the U.S., as well as internationally in more than 70 countries. To learn more about ABC Legal and our solutions, visit www.abclegal.com.