As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the legal profession found itself in a position where it needed to change its systems and embrace technology to continue to operate effectively.
Courts and Tribunals across the State each introduced new processes to support the transition to a virtual court room. This meant lawyers were no longer expected to travel to court to appear before a Judge, Magistrate or Tribunal Member but rather we were dialed in by phone or by video conference into the virtual courtroom.
Tindall Gask Bentley has been amongst the first law firms in South Australia to represent its clients at a trial through electronic means.
As a firm we have embraced these developments such that we have now assisted clients on numerous occasions with hearings and trials that have been heard via “electronic appearances”, using Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Webex. This has allowed our clients matters to continue to progress and to be able to access justice in an efficient and cost effective way.
How does the virtual courtroom actually work?
The virtual courtroom entails all participants, including the Judge, being in a different building. Often in the matters we have been involved in some of the lawyers are also physically located in a different State. All the party’s representatives then dial in and are virtually present within the same courtroom.
For example, in a recent trial our firm was involved in before the South Australian Employment Tribunal, the judge, the barristers, the lawyers and the medical experts who were giving evidence were all connected via Microsoft Teams. Our client’s matter was able to be proceeded with and heard by the Tribunal due to the use of this brilliant technology. Lay witnesses were still called in person.
However, the pandemic should not be entirely credited for the introduction of technology to the legal system as this has been a work in progress for a long time. On Monday it was announced that all Civil Courts in South Australia were moving online utilising a new online system called Courts SA.
The introduction of Courts SA means that all civil courts have an online platform to enable the lodgement of court documents electronically, from the solicitors desktop direct to the court. In a nutshell the traditional court forms have been replaced by smart forms. This approach has been well supported by His Honour Chief Justice Kourakis SC who recently commented that the transition to Courts SA should definitely result in increased efficiency, reduction in the costs of litigation and greater access to justice for all members of our community.
While Covid-19 may have accelerated the introduction of technology into the Courtroom, this transition was necessary to increase efficiency, reduce costs and enhance accessibility to justice. The introduction of Courts SA makes certain that the use of smart forms and electronic lodgement of court documents is here to stay. However, the question remains, will the virtual courtroom continue to be utilised beyond the current restrictions?
We hope it does.