Article

Gateways to justice: The use of videoconferencing technology to take evidence in australian courts

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Abstract

Videoconferencing technology is becoming a significant component of eJustice. Across the justice system many countries are making substantial investments in this technology for a range of uses, which increasingly involve the taking of evidence in legal proceedings. While the use of videoconferencing is most often justified on the grounds of cost-savings and convenience, there has been little in the way of research on its effects. What do we know about its impact on the witness who uses it? How is that remote witness perceived in the courtroom? How do they experience the court process? Will the giving of evidence remotely advantage or disadvantage the party who calls that witness? What criteria should courts apply when deciding whether or not to allow evidence to be taken by this method? Should there be different criteria for different types of witnesses? What protocols and procedures should guide the way the evidence is taken? This paper will report on the preliminary findings of a major three-year multi-disciplinary research project designed to improve the way remote witness technology is used in Australian courts. It will discuss the types of technology used, the extent and incidence of its use, the legal and procedural framework, and the design of the remote witness environment. In the past ten years since their inception, the design of remote witness facilities has changed little, reflecting the paucity of research undertaken in this area. We contend that the environmental context in which evidence is given is of great significance, and that a judge allowing a witness to give their evidence remotely cannot be certain that the current architectural and technological configurations will not be deleterious to a witness' ability to communicate their position to the courtroom effectively. We argue that an exploration of the concept of 'presence' in virtual environments can provide valuable insights into the way in which the remote witness environment can be improved. We will outline how our research is being used to develop criteria that will be tested experimentally in the next phase of the project. The results of this research will be used to produce practical guidance for courts on how to best use remote witness technology to achieve just outcomes in an eJustice environment.

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