I recently read an article by American lawyer, Mitch Jackson. It was written in 2016 [ ]. The article was entitled, “Using #VR, #AR and Sensory Devices in the Courtroom.” In that article, Mitch was looking forward to 2020 and describing an imaginary product liability jury trial in Orange County, California.

The article imagined a courtroom which was using VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and other ‘sensory devices’ to help him win his case. Mitch writes:

“Instead of having to fight traffic and drive down to the courthouse, I’ll be conducting most of the jury trial from the convenience and familiarity of my office. The secure cloud-based VARS [Virtual and Augmented Reality with Sensory device] service allows me to use any devices such as an Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR or the HTC Vive to communicate and try my case. Opposing counsel, our judge, the court staff, and witnesses will all be using similar technology.

Of course, Mitch was looking into the future. 2020 is now here. How close are we, really, to seeing this kind of technology, for real, in our courtrooms? And, importantly, is it really a positive thing?

In relation to the first of these questions, we are maybe closer than we think. And the uses for this advanced kind of technology are limitless. For example, technology can be used for evidence collection and it already is. Beyond that, new technologies might be able to help lawyers actually predict the outcome of cases. This would probably help to improve their ‘success rate’, but questions remain. For example, how would technology predict just how a witness might appear to a judge or jury? Many things can affect the quality of evidence given by witnesses, their credibility, and, therefore, the possible outcome.

The benefits of improving the sensory experience of, for example, jurors – and judges – in trials must be obvious. Studies have shown that if more of your senses are used, you retain information better. If you can visually show, for example, a crime scene to a jury without them actually being there, it may make everything more ‘real’ for them and engage their senses better.

Another possible use would be for the presentation of witness evidence. This might be particularly important, for example, in trials where witnesses, and victims of serious crimes, might not want to be in court to give their evidence. This often happens, for example, in sexual abuse cases or cases of serious violence. Yes, witnesses might be able to give evidence by a video link, but this is not perfect and can seem ‘remote’. It may be better to use technology to allow witnesses to give evidence using some form of augmented reality technology. In this way, they could appear in a courtroom in ‘virtual’ form, and yet not be physically present in court, where they may feel intimidated; something which can affect the quality of their evidence.

How close are we to this being a realistic possibility? Maybe closer than we think. However, as lawyers, we must certainly think carefully about all the pros and cons of using such technology, whether they are legal or ethical. What Mitch Jackson said in his article in 2016 probably still applies.

“Note: Obviously everything I discussed is still in development but it’s going to happen in the near future. I do see this technology eventually complimenting not only our legal system, but also everything else we do as human beings.”

(c) Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020

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