When you think of the courts, perhaps you think of judges wearing robes and wigs, barristers consulting leather-bound lawbooks, or lawyers shouting “objection!”. These ideas are portrayed in film, television and literature – think of the lawyers in Liar Liar, Legally Blonde, Suits and Dickens’ Bleak House!
Legal stereotypes rarely extend to computers and social media. Our new two-part series addresses this issue. We examine how digital technology is used in NSW courts to serve justice, as well as future trends in judicial technology.
Technology and Justice
Digital technology has been embraced by Australian courts for over 25 years. Courts use video-conferencing, electronic filing and case management, digital document storage, website posts, and recently social media.
For the courts, technology has value:
- Innovating, and keeping up with community expectations and trends;
- Making justice more accessible, affordable and timely; and
- Maintaining public trust and confidence in the courts.
These aims are summarised by section 56 of the Civil Procedure Act 2005 (NSW):
The overriding purpose of this Act and of rules of court… is to facilitate the just, quick and cheap resolution of the real issues in the proceedings.
Technology in the NSW Courts
We review some of the major recent developments in NSW court technology below:
NSW Online Court
Introduced in 2015, Online Court allows court officers and lawyers to interact online. This can save courts, lawyers and clients considerable time and money. Online Court presently is limited to certain NSW Supreme, District and Local Court matters, and parties may still need to attend court for final proceedings.
NSW Online Registry
Lawyers use Online Registry to electronically complete, file and access forms anywhere, at any time.
Audio-Visual Link Technology
NSW courtrooms were fitted with Audio-Visual Link technology in 2016-2019. AVL reduces transportation costs and allows vulnerable people to provide video evidence. 70% of NSW court appearances in 2017 were via AVL.
Lawyers and courts use ‘cloud computing’ for email, document management (Google Documents, etc.) and data storage (DropBox, etc.).
Social media platforms (Twitter, etc.) are used by NSW and federal courts to publish judgments, reports and admin matters. Courts use social media to:
- Communicate directly with the public.
- Minimises media misreporting: “The courts … have had enough of the inappropriate criticism, the skewing of information in the media…” (Warren CJ).
- Maintain public confidence in the courts.
- Public interest: Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Limited  HCA 16 was the first Australian case to be live-tweeted.
- Allsop, James, ‘Technology and the Future of the Courts’ (Speech, University of Queensland, Special Lecture Series on Technology and the Future of the Legal Profession, 26 March 2019) <http://www.fedcourt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/55520/Allsop-CJ-20190326.pdf>
- Kirby, Michael, ‘The Future of Courts: Do They Have One?’ (Speech, Judicial Conference of Australia, Third Annual Colloquium, Gold Coast, 8 November 1998) <https://www.hcourt.gov.au/assets/publications/speeches/former-justices/kirbyj/kirbyj_future1.htm>
- Paver, Chris, ‘The Courts v Twitter: The Future of Live Court Reporting in NSW’ (2013) 31(1) Communications Law Bulletin 6.
- Ryan, Philippa and Maxine Evers, ‘Exploring eCourt innovations in New South Wales civil courts’ (2016) 5(1) Journal of Civil Litigation and Practice 65
- Sourdin, Tania, ‘Judge v Robot? Artificial Intelligence and Judicial Decision-Making’ (2018) 41(4) UNSW Law Journal 1114
- Sourdin, Tania, Bin Li and Tony Burke, ‘Just, Quick and Cheap? Civil Dispute Resolution and Technology’ (2019) 19 Macquarie Law Journal 17