Nóra Al Haider, Oct 21, 2021
“Please wait for the host to start this meeting”
Nowadays, in many jurisdictions, litigants can opt to use Zoom to access their hearing. This is one of the many effects that the pandemic had on the legal system. Webex, Teams and Zoom are starting to feel like a regular part of courts.
As with all new developments this change poses opportunities and challenges that we will delve into in future publications. Online courts have not only affected how ‘regular’ stakeholders, such as litigants, judges, court clerks and lawyers, navigate the legal system. Easy access to hearings also means that anyone with an interest in a case can easily Zoom in as a court watcher. Community members, journalists, activists and advocates do not have to take time out of their day to drive to a courthouse, stand in line, go through security to then finally be able to attend a hearing. Nowadays most hearings are just a click away for those who are interested.
Online courts increased the amount of court observation groups around the country. In essence, court observation groups are community driven clubs that structurally observe hearings in their jurisdiction. These groups do not only draw attention to individual cases, but can also, due to the sheer number of observers, detect structural problems in the system. This development is incredibly interesting. The increased interest in court observation groups will be an opportunity for academics and non-profits to work together with community partners to unearth and gather more data about structural issues in the legal system.
The development of court observation groups has been cheered on by many people, including non-legal professionals. The singer Fiona Apple used the Grammys to bring more attention to virtual courts and encouraged people to join their local court watch groups:
Chief Justice McCormack has stated several times that court livestreams increase transparency:
This increase in attention for court watchers and the ease of accessibility boosted the interest of many individuals to join an observation group. To facilitate this process, we developed the Court Observation Hub at the Legal Design Lab. This hub provides an overview of links to online proceedings and court watch groups in different jurisdictions.
The hub also gives an overview of tools on how to set up court watch groups. Hopefully, in the future we’ll be able to expand this website with measurement instruments that are free to use by community court watchers. It could have a monumental impact on the legal system if community groups are able to systematically collect and share information. This development could trigger positive policy changes, increase transparency in the legal system and strengthen the rule of law.
Visit the Court Observation Hub at https://virtuallegal.systems/observation/