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TECH IN THE COURTROOM: AUGMENTED REALITY (PART 1) (B2)

Historically, the law has often been slow to modernise. However, modern technology is starting to change that. In recent posts, we have looked at ‘smart contracts’ [ https://www.cambridgelegalenglish.com/post/smart-contracts-and-the-law-b2 ] and also artificial intelligence and intellectual property [ https://www.cambridgelegalenglish.com/post/artificial-intelligence-and-intellectual-property-rights-b1 ]. In this post, and the next, we will take a look at how technology is being used in the courtroom (for litigation purposes) and how it may be used in the future.


It is now almost universal to see many different kinds of modern technology in the courtroom. For example, modern courtrooms are equipped with video and video-link technology. This enables, for example, witnesses and sometimes defendants to participate in cases without being physically present in the courtroom. Most barristers now bring their laptops to court, on which material (including documents such as indictments, witness statements, case management documents, skeleton arguments, and so on) relating to a case are stored. This makes referring to these documents easy. It also reduces the amount of paper significantly.


In England & Wales, several Crown Courts and Magistrates’ Courts have begun to trial a new digital case management system. The ‘Common Platform’ digital system, which cost around £210 million, is designed to allow all parties in a case digital access to all information about a case; including the charges, evidence, and results. Access to this information will, of course, be securely controlled.


A more interesting, and possibly futuristic, use of technology in the courtroom has been suggested. This involves the use of ‘Augmented Reality’ (AR) in a very imaginative – and potentially very useful – way. What is AR? Essentially, it is the real time use of information in the form of text, graphics, audio, and other audio-visual enhancement. The Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance described it as:


“…any technology that ‘augments’ the user’s visual (and in some case auditory) perception of their environment. Typically, digital information is superimposed over a natural existing environment. Information is tailored to the user’s physical position as well as the context of the task……helping the user to solve the problem and complete the task.”

in a real-world environment, including a courtroom. You can think of it as a kind of hologram.

In the next part, we will look at some possible uses of augmented reality in a courtroom and litigation context.


GLOSSARY

indictment – An indictment is the formal written charge against a defendant in a Crown Court.

Crown Court – In the English legal system, the Crown Court is one of the ‘senior’ English criminal courts. Most serious criminal trials take place in a Crown Court and involve a judge and jury.

Magistrates’ Court – A Magistrates’ Court is one of the lower courts in the English legal system. Most of the less serious criminal cases are heard in the Magistrates’ Court, which does not use a jury. The Magistrates’ Court also deals with some kinds of civil cases. Cases are tried by magistrates.


EXERCISE

Can you think of any potential uses for AR technology in the courtroom or for litigation (including trials)?

What advantages and disadvantages do you think using this kind of technology would have? Is it all 'good news'?


© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020


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