In the 1997 issue of the journal “The Modern Law review” Robin Widdison entertained the idea of technology in courtrooms. The future of legal institutions, and the revolutionary way in which technology could pave the way to a more efficient or risque system of imparting justice. The pros and cons of incorporating the same stay to this date are vaguely inconsistent owing to the process being in its induction stage. However, Widdison accurately identified, with an impressive degree of foresight, the introduction of numerous technological innovations which are now beginning to permanently alter the paradigm of legal praxis.
This includes the adoption of electronic documentation, digital case files, and case management systems; the implementation of audio/video links and conferencing; the development of online plea systems; and the growth of virtual legal advice.
In this article, I have traced the significantly arduous development of courtrooms; from the traditional way of modus operandi inclusive of an outstanding independent judiciary that has been widely celebrated. A Common Law system, which has led the world for the past 1000 years and influenced so many jurisdictions. The right to trial by jury – “The lamp that shows that freedom lives,” as Lord Devlin described it – has been a trademark achievement. The fairness of criminal trials and the history associated with iconic courts such as the Old Bailey being applauded; to the new age tech progressing justice system. In addition to that, I have, to the best of my abilities, taken the liberty to mete out possible reforms in the process of digitization.
Proceedings and Developments in British Court: An allusion
In England the ancient structure of the different forms of action in civil cases was abandoned in the year 1852 in exchange for an advanced system of uniform writs of summons; allowing for the accommodation of a liberal amendment of pleadings.
Fixed dates were set for trials.
The next major step that redefined the legal system was to abolish the jury trials in civil cases in 1933. This however was in exception to cases of libel and name a few.
Various other accommodations, amendments, and adjustments were made over the period of time. Ones, which were believed to suit current needs and prove efficient. A string of Evidence acts eased the process of admissibility of evidence in civil cases. Extensive reforms of civil procedure were initiated in the year 2000 as the consequence of a report by Lord Woolf, who was appointed Lord Chief Justice to implement the changes called for in his report. The focal point behind this was to ease language and simplify the procedure. A very fundamental part of these was opting to use plainer, simpler English phrases instead of complex Latin ones.
The dawn of the 19th century saw a major shift in the judicial system, the emphasis now was on the protection of the rights of the accused.
The year 1836 witnessed the right to counsel for the accused and the succeeding years only saw this development flourish. In 1898 the accused were entitled to testify on their own behalf.
In 1903 a stipulation for the state to bear the expenses for the defense was made—it has since been augmented—and in 1907 the Right of Appeal against criminal convictions was constructed.
In 1967 verdicts by a majority of the jury were introduced and the press coverage of hearings of an ongoing hearing was carefully monitored (unrestricted coverage of the same wasn’t encouraged and this could very well be enforced)
The essentials of legal insanity were laid down in the 19th century and supplemented in 1957 by the limited defense of “diminished responsibility.” Capital punishment was gradually ceased for a majority of felonies and was done away with (for murder) by the Homicide Acts of 1957–65.
The jurisdiction of the church courts over the laity ended in 1857, around the time when the secular divorce and probate courts were being set up. These merged with the High Court of Justice in 1875 as a result of the Judicature Acts of 1873–75, which ameliorated the civil courts. The Judicature Act endeavored to fuse law and equity by making accessible legal and equitable remedies in all distinct divisions of the High Court.
Before the Courts Act, criminal cases were tried repeatedly in the span of one year. The introduction of a ‘Permanent Provincial Crown’ has helped resolve this issue. Thus, eradicating duplicity of efforts, expense, labor, and inconvenience; replacing them with an effective and much faster-paced judicial system.
A distinct and exceptional feature of English criminal justice, when put on the table against the European Justice System, has been the unabating role of the Lay Magistrates, who remain cardinal despite the appointment of district judges, in London and quite a few other larger cities. Magistrates have now been provided immediate assistance and frequently revised guidance and training through online facilities. These developments, since the year 1948, highlight both the persistence in English law of traditional institutions and a preference for reformation, rehabilitation rather than complete thoughtless rejection/eradication.
Digitization: Modus operandi, Aim, and Ground Reality
Courtroom technology has broadly been defined as: ‘any system or method that uses technology in the form of electrical equipment to provide a clear benefit to the judicial process. More specifically, the various technologies used in court can include IT equipment, such as laptops, iPads, court recording, transcription and video/audio conferencing technology; as well as administrative software such as case management systems, e-filing systems, e-libraries, case law indexes, and sentencing support systems. Over the last two decades, many jurisdictions internationally have sought to embed and extend digital justice processes within the framework of their court systems, resulting in substantive transfigurations in digital court architectures.
It is quite evident that inducting tech into the way of departing justice is a process that has begun already. In this section of my article, I will be undergoing the different ways in which tech has been molded into the institution of legal machinery.
Looking at the legal infrastructure, more flexible deployment of the judiciary can be accommodated with little or no pinch, that too across varied jurisdictions of courts and tribunals. Bridging the ease of accessibility bar. It is proving successful so far. This innovation is oftentimes met with heavy skepticism by the advocates of this profession. These are but uneducated claims made by an err of human ways i.e to be naturally afraid of things we are unaccustomed to. The technology will only aid in helping them simplify their professional practices, better reach their clients, and hence put the optimal effort in fulfilling their respective clients’ needs.
In England and Wales, technological innovations in court have taken much longer to gain traction than in other comparable international jurisdictions. “The English have been slaves to their archaic traditions, the ways of their old”. Tribunal systems have been basing an astoundingly gargantuan chunk of their workings without the aid of the simplest tech. Preference is given to paper-based documentation in favor of digital databases despite the exhilarating efforts to integrate and engage inculcation of technology. But the inevitable cannot be prevented only prolonged.
As a consequence of the advancement and diffusion of technology across a variety of professional and private domains on a very extensive basis, the courts can no longer be seen as a marginal entity but are now part of the greater and more intricate web of the technological strata. The growth of the ‘internet of things,19 resulting from the integration of mobile devices including smartphones, together with embedded networked communications, has not only inevitably brought about greater technological assimilation into legal domains but accelerated it. Thus, making the whole affair cost-effective, much more reasonable, and accessible.
From undertaking reforms to able eradication of the ceremonialist and decorous way of operation in the courtroom to a more sensible and non-threatening way of appeals. Advanced case records have effectively taken out the requirement for piles of administrative work. The Rolls Building – with its new online framework which empowers cases to be initiated and overseen electronically – has underlined London’s worldwide standing as the main place for business question goals. Yet, modernization will go a lot further – broadening and improving this methodology across each of the Justice System courts and councils will expand on an exceptional legacy, and still manage to enable a framework that is clear to use for each resident.
A consistent thread running historically through all proposals for court reform has been the requirement to improve efficiency across the court system, and concerns about efficiency remain at the core of the current modernization program. This is well exemplified by the intention to create new systems for online convictions. The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 of the parliament of the United Kingdoms introduced the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) which applies to cases involving adults charged with summary-only non-imprisonable offenses. It enables such cases to be dealt with by a single magistrate sitting with a legal adviser on the papers without the attendance of either the prosecutor or defendant.
The defendant is instead able to interact with the court in writing and the case does not necessitate a traditional hearing in court. The SJP allows one magistrate to consider a defendant’s plea and the evidence, including any mitigating circumstances, as provided in the documents. By channeling mundane, routine summary cases through the SJP, it is intended for the magistrates and their legal advisors to be able to have more time to center their labor and intellect on complex cases. The defendants are now able to resolve their cases online, the penalties too are meted online. The payment of any fines as such is also done via a digital platform.
The use of court technologies shows promise for new digital innovations to support the dispensation of justice, and elevate the quality of justice. However, bettering the quality of in-court technology is a necessary forerunner to enhancing digital practices, here the more appurtenant concern must be regarding the ability to understand the conditions under which remote technology can function by ensuring that digital procedures are designed to enable effective participation in courtroom communication and interactive social rituals. In a digital world, technology creates new gateways and at the same time, obstructions, for the dynamics of court user participation. This is in the context of guaranteeing access and engagement which should be systematically enhanced and not ironically be diminished. As of date, the pace of technological change and the growth of courtroom technologies both nationally and internationally is far from proportional. It should also invite sufficient scrutiny in terms of case outcomes, rigorous analyses, and a rapidly enacted series of legal reforms. Digital justice means (and requires) a cultural shift in how we propose the use of technology in courts: this entails a reorientation of current approaches to ensure that care is taken in developing, training, and studying the multitude of aspects of the participative and communicative dynamics of courtroom IT. Solely relocating services online may in fact turn out to be counterproductive and serve to further entrench access to justice impediments if the existing limitations are not factored in. Many – although by no means all – users of new court technologies, will be disadvantaged and disempowered groups who possess scant access to legal advice/services. In this respect, the government’s current approach to digitization fails to take adequate account of the availability of legal services within and outside of the courtroom as a prerequisite for realizing improved participation and outcomes in court through digital innovation. Digital processes do not in themselves obstruct the realization of access to justice objectives: digitization is merely a medium and facilitator. However, in this context with easier management and access and questionable admissibility, the question for compromised values arises. In particular, reformation drives must take account of the way technology manifests transformations in communicative dynamics, and perhaps more crucially, policymakers must consider how the institutional landscape in which that technology is deployed may diminish or preclude the attainment of enhanced (digital) justice. As Widdison reflected some two decades ago: ‘While it is generally accepted that IT is morally neutral, our management, mismanagement or non-management of it is, however, not. This is the challenge facing court reformers; in the absence of a policy framework designed to promote greater participation and access to legal aid, the promise of digital justice will remain unrealized.
Every generation has updated or reformed the justice system to adapt to changing times. From the sealing of the Magna Carta to the protection of judicial independence in the 1701 Act of Settlement, to the creation of the Crown Court in the 1970s – there has never been a moment of stagnation or complacency. We have not inherited this remarkable justice system by accident but thanks to the foresight and the hard work of all those who came before us. Our times – with the advent of the internet and an explosion in new technology – provide the opportunity for radical change. Traditional ways of working are being upended, not just injustice but across the board. To secure and enhance the global reputation of our justice system, therefore, we must respond to those changes radically and quickly – and the rapidly evolving needs and expectations of everyone who uses our courts and tribunals.
Posted by: Yoshita Dahiya, Army Institute of Law, Mohali – winner of Legal Blog Writing Competition