2020 has been one of the most unpredictable years in most of our lifetimes. No one would have expected a pandemic to hit, but it did. And it has been a devastating few months at that. So many people’s lives have been affected because this virus has forced us all to a halt. Luckily we know more about the virus now than when it first arrived. Scientists have been working on finding a vaccine for COVID-19.
But while they’re still in their trial phases, the government and the World Health Organization has given us a set of protocols to follow so we don’t get the virus in the meantime. Protocols such as wearing masks, face shields, often sanitizing, social distancing, and staying at home have proven to protect us from the virus. And although many businesses have closed down, some businesses considered essential have stayed open. But as much as possible, those that can be done remotely should be done remotely. Such as court hearings.
Virtual court hearings are not new or unusual. In the United Kingdom, virtual court hearings have been going on since the early 2010s. Cheshire was one of the few areas that pushed for virtual court hearings, and they’ve continued to adapt it for years. The United States has also been making use of virtual hearings. They’ve been proven to make court hearings more efficient and more flexible. It allows for more cases to be heard in a single day, and it helps process cases faster.
We can see just how useful virtual court hearings can be, especially now that working remotely has become more than necessary. So what exactly should you expect to happen at a virtual court hearing?
How do virtual court hearings go?
A virtual court hearing is much like any normal court hearing. Except you do it online through video call either on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Before the pandemic hit, virtual court hearings would still need to be done with the judge and prosecutor in the courtroom. At the same time, the defendant and defense attorney would be in a jail conference room. Now, the judge, prosecutor, detective, and court reporter could be doing the hearings anywhere they like, which is the only unusual thing about virtual hearings nowadays.
To know if you need to be a part of a virtual hearing, the court will most likely notify you right away and give you all the necessary information about the hearing. Once you receive the notification, you must let the court know right away whether or not you have a device to participate in the hearing. So if you don’t, they can make arrangements to provide you with one or postpone your hearing until it’s safe to go back to court.
To prepare for your virtual hearing, make sure that you have a stable internet connection. And that you’re in an area with little to no noise. Make sure to install the Zoom app, as this is the app that people use for virtual hearings. Create a Zoom account and wait for the link to the meeting to be sent to you. Remember to be at your meeting on time. This is still an official hearing, even if it is being done virtually.
Pretty much everything is the same, aside from the fact that the participants (except for the defendant and defense attorney) can be in any venue during the hearing. However, there still may be some problems during the hearing. Especially if you have weak internet or your device isn’t exactly up to date. There could be problems with the connection, audio quality, or video quality. Technology does have its limitations. But these issues can easily be fixed.
There are also other disadvantages to virtual hearings. If one or more of the participants are not tech-savvy, it could make it much harder for them to go through the hearing. It might also be hard for the participants to judge properly because they won’t see the defendant’s body language. Not to mention, rules and guidelines for virtual hearings are still not exactly properly set.
Although this pandemic has been challenging, it can also serve as a lesson to us. That even through the toughest times, we still have to adapt. Thanks to technology, we can continue to serve justice to the people from the safety of our own homes. Maybe this could even be a sign for the justice system to allow court hearings to be done virtually more often? But most probably not.