Article

Laissez-Faire videoconferencing: Remote witness testimony and adversarial truth

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Abstract

With increasing frequency, witnesses who formerly could only appear in court via deposition transcripts and videotapes now testify live from remote locations via videoconferencing. For many people, the idea of filming testimony evokes concerns about attorneys manipulating a witness's appearance to affect the witness's credibility. For others, the thought of a witness appearing "live via satellite" poses a threat to the very sanctity of the courtroom. In this Comment, Michael Roth examines issues of law and policy raised by introducing videoconferencing technology to trial proceedings. Roth provides a background of the technology and an overview of its current uses in the judicial system. He then looks at the concept of demeanor testimony and examines how media theorists suggest both the technology itself and production techniques can affect perceptions of a witness's demeanor. Roth argues that in light of empirical studies refuting the efficacy of demeanor as an indicator of truthfulness and current trial practices that distort witnesses' credibility, remote witness testimony should not be separately regulated. He concludes that videoconferencing should either be considered an additional tool in the advocate's repertoire of trial tactics, or it should invite a reevaluation of the advocate's role in our adversarial system.

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... Since the late 1990s, videoconference (vc) systems have been used in criminal courts in the uk (Plotnikoff & Woolfson 1999;2000) as a means to reduce cost, enhance security, and speed up proceedings. According to , 90% of Magistrate's Courts and all Crown Courts were equipped in 2013 with the necessary Videoconference Interpreting (vci) equipment to enable courts to establish an audio and video feed between the participants physically present in Jerome Devaux. ...
... The second main research theme focuses on the impact that vci equipment has on participants' perceptions of the court hearing, and how court participants interact. Studies reveal that it is more difficult to assess emotions (Radburn-Remfry 1994), body language (Fullwood et al. 2008), and a witness's credibility (Roth 2000). There is also a risk that participants feel detached from the process (McKay 2016), and the working relationship between the remote defendant and the participants in court may be questioned (Hodges 2008). ...
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Back in 2000, videoconference systems were introduced in criminal courts in Eng-land and Wales so that defendants could attend their pre-trial court hearings from prison. Since then, the number of cases heard via videoconference interpreting technologies has been on the increase. In order to be able to conduct a hearing remotely, courts and prisons are equipped with cameras, screens, microphones, and loudspeakers which link up both locations so that participants can hear and see each other. In terms of research, various reports on the viability of such systems acknowledge the benefits of conducting court hearings remotely, whilst also highlighting shortfalls. Interestingly, most of these studies were carried out in a monolingual setting, and fewer studies examine the impact of videoconference interpreting equipment in multilingual court settings. In this context the interpreter's role, and more particularly her role perception when technologies are used in a courtroom, remains under-explored. This paper will demonstrate that, unlike in face-to-face court hearings, technologies force some interpreters to create split role models.
... Other participants stated that they were less concerned about the potential impact of telepresence technology on a judge's assessment of a defendant's credibility because people are not especially skilled at accurately reading an individual's demeanor, whether in person or via videoconference. Studies have demonstrated that the assessment of one's demeanor is not a reliable means by which to assess credibility (Bennett, 2015;Blumenthal, 1993;Ogden, 2000;Roth, 2000;Timony, 2000). Therefore, the diminished ability to read a person's demeanor because of the use of cameras and monitors might not be the key issue for determining whether to embrace telepresence technology. ...
... Indeed, courts are often congested and procedures are formalistic; it may take even years before a judgement sees the light of the day, and the economic or even emotional costs involved could be very devastating (Mnookin, 1992). The incorporation of innovative ICT into dispute resolution mechanisms began with taking evidence via video-conferencing and admitting electronic copies of documents (Gertner, 2003;Johnson and Wiggins, 2006;Roth, 2000). This was viewed as a mere aid to the judicial process, which was easier and faster as parties can access justice at a cheaper cost, hence the emergence of " cybercourt " or " cybertribunals " where the procedural steps mimic the court systems (Albornoz and Martín, 2012;Omoola and Oseni, 2016;Ponte, 2002;Ponte and Cavenagh, 2004). ...
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