Photo credit: onward.justia.com
Courts across the world were required to rely on remote hearings during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the technology for such activity has been around for several years, increased reliance during this period has boosted its efficacy. Aled Richards-Jones, an associate barrister for a European intellectual property firm, expressed in an article on iam.com that judges are now more familiar and confident in new technologies. According to Richards-Jones, this indicates that their use will continue in a post-pandemic world. While it is likely that virtual court proceedings are here to stay, their presence may influence the efficiency of courts and their ability to produce just outcomes. Moving forward, hybrid court proceedings could offer an apt solution to these concerns.
Potential concerns for virtual court proceedings include technological illiteracy and internet access for rural or impoverished people. According to a study published in July from Statista.com, approximately 10% of EU citizens were without access to the internet in 2020. Many more individuals lacked a basic level of technological literacy. Taken together, this constitutes a significant portion of the population—a portion without the means necessary to participate in virtual proceedings.
With regard to efficiency, it seems that virtual courts have the potential to maintain general standards and practices. For instance, intellectual property claims are proceeding as usual in UK courts. In 2020, a year of transition to virtual proceedings, 48 High Court patent claims were filed. This is only a minor reduction from the 55 claims filed in 2019. Moreover, 11 trials have taken place in those Patent Courts, nearly half of which were conducted on an entirely remote basis. Only 2 were heard in person and the rest were a hybrid of virtual and traditional methods.
While these UK courts demonstrate the potential for efficiency to remain steady, the presence of hybrid proceedings also bodes well for those without technological literacy or internet access. In the new era, judges seem willing to (and may have to) use these hybrid hearings on a more regular basis to accommodate for parties with different technological capacities. Court proceedings of the future are thus likely to be composed of both virtual and personal elements.
Signed by Anthony Ramazani, Millennium Partners intern