Virtual court could be here to stay

Remote court hearings became the default during the pandemic, and that may not end with COVID.

It became a familiar sight over the pandemic: People’s faces in separate squares on a computer screen. The simple web meeting became a lifesaver for dozens of industries in the past year.

The legal system was no different. Zoom and other web conferencing technologies allowed courts to move on with the important work of hearing cases while YouTube and other streaming platforms improved transparency.

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State court officials say virtual court ought to continue even after COVID-19 is no more.

Tom Boyd is the state court administrator for the Michigan Supreme Court. He said he’s heard from lawyers, judges, and even members of the public about the courts’ digital efforts. They’re overwhelmingly popular.

“Rather than traveling or waiting in line or waiting your turn, people can simply continue their work and enter the Zoom meeting at the right time to get their business done,” he said in an interview with Michigan Radio. “I mean this is a convenience that, you know, we can’t ignore.”

In a memo to judges, Boyd said virtual court proceedings were one of the rare success stories out of the past year.

“Nearly 1,000 judges, magistrates, and referees … have presided over more than 3 million hours of online proceedings,” he wrote. “The result? Parties and their attorneys love it. The biggest boost to access to justice in our lifetimes. Exponential improvement in efficiency.”

For the moment, courts are slowly moving back to holding legal proceedings in person. But court administrators won’t drop virtual hearings altogether. They’re developing a plan for determining which procedures should be in person and which should stay virtual.

You can read more here.

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