The Government has recently unveiled proposals for a much faster and high tech Criminal Justice system. This is a development of the fast track procedures introduced during last years’ riots. The plan is to have courts sitting out of hours and at venues; such a community centres. Defendants will appear by video link as will witnesses.
Any measure which makes our justice system quicker and more efficient is to be welcomed. But how far will this go? The Law Society’s Criminal Justice Chair, Richard Atkinson, points out the dangers in such virtual courts where the Defendant might never have to make a personal appearance. Where does the Defendants’ Lawyer go? Do they remain with the accused at the Prison thus losing the opportunity to discuss the case with their opponent – a vital part of any court based litigation? Or do they go to court and leave the accused without the facility of discussing the case with his own lawyer.
This is a valid concern. Lawyers, for all their other skills, cannot be in two places at the same time. Now there may be a time when Virtual Lawyers will be able to appear by hologram in many different places. But we are not there yet!
I can see a dangerous scenario developing where Virtual Courts are seen as a cheap alternative to the real thing. Why not have all courts operating without the inconvenient presence of the parties or even the lawyers. We can all conduct our litigation from the comfort of our own living rooms.
The difficulty with all this is that it ignores the real world. Cases are often resolved by all parties coming together, around a table or at court. This involves complex discussions and major decisions. They are not going to happen over a video link or any other virtual form of communication.
I am all for modernising procedures but not at the cost of justice.
As John Atkinson says in his article –
‘A more efficient justice system is possible, but the government needs to recognise that speed does not always equate to efficiency and efficiency should never be promoted over justice.’
Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights says that a person is entitled to a fair trial. It could be that a trial in which any party cannot access his lawyer in unfair.