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Moving aspects of the justice system online can have important benefits. For example, it means cases can be dealt with more quickly and efficiently and it can make court more accessible for those who might struggle to attend in person.

However, conducting proceedings online has the potential to change the criminal trial in a variety of ways, some of which may not be obvious. For example, in criminal cases defendants may be more likely to plead guilty when appearing remotely, even when innocent or in asylum hearings, applicants may be less likely to be successful when appearing online. It is therefore important to understand the consequences of moving proceedings online and to ensure appropriate protections are provided to participants in online legal proceedings.

The aim of this wiki is to construct a catalogue of empirical evidence relating to online justice in order to inform debate and policy in this area. Relevant papers appear below, and are catalogued by theme (representation rates, interpreter data, guilty plea rates, outcomes for child defendants, outcomes for vulnerable defendants, equipment reliability / performance, cost / speed / efficiency, defendant behaviour, sentencing, defendant satisfaction, judicial satisfaction, client lawyer relations). You can also add any papers that we have missed using our wiki functionality.

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online justice and guilty pleas

Online Justice and Guilty Pleas Data Summary

Research suggests that whether trials are conducted virtually or in person may influence the number of defendants who plead guilty. Some evidence suggests defendants may be more likely to plead guilty when appearing virtually. If virtual courts do encourage guilty pleas, this may explain the higher than normal plea rates seen during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Terry, Johnson, and Thompson, 2010

This study examined outcomes in virtual magistrates courts over a period of a 12 month pilot in London. In the virtual courts, defendants appeared in court via a video link while remaining in the police station in which they were charged.

The study found that guilty pleas in virtual courts were three percentage points higher than in the comparator area (75% compared to 72%). Guilty plea rates were particularly likely to be higher in cases of theft, public order, and motoring offences when cases were heard virtually. Guilty pleas in virtual courts were slightly higher when defendants were unrepresented. Defence solicitors interviewed as part of this study were concerned that appearing from a custody suite in a police station might influence the behaviour of defendants, for example by encouraging them to plead guilty or refuse representation as a means of speeding up the process.

Standing Committee for Youth Justice, 2018

In the context of youth justice, legal professionals expressed mixed opinions on how appearing remotely may influence plea rates in children. Some believed that appearing remotely would not make a difference to children who would follow the advice of their solicitor either way, while others felt children appearing via video link might feel resigned to entering a guilty plea, particularly when in custody while doing so.

Plotnikoff and Woolfson, 2000

This study examined outcomes in a pilot using video link for plea and directions hearings in custody cases committed at a video link hearing from Manchester Magistrates’ Court. Both defence and prosecution advocates felt that video link hearings hampered their discussions with the defendant about plea. The guilty plea rate at video plea and directions hearings was higher than the average rate for all plea and directions hearings at Manchester Crown Court during the same period.

Terry & Surette, 1986

This study examined video arraignments in Miami, Florida, and reported that 10.7% of 337 defendants asked said that they would have pled differently if they weren’t “on TV.”

Last edited 22 February 2021 | 2:29 pm | Rebecca Helm
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Online Justice and sentencing

Online Justice and Sentencing Data Summary

There is some evidence that sentences given in virtual courts may be harsher than sentences given in-person. Research examining outcomes in virtual magistrates court over a 12-month pilot in London found that virtual courts produced approximately three percentage points of extra custodial sentences compared to the comparator group (10% of all sentences compared to 7% in the comparator group) and three percentage points fewer community sentences compared to the comparator group (14% of all sentences compared to 17% in the comparator group) (Terry, Johnson, and Thompson, 2010).

More anecdotally, research has reported opinions of legal professionals and defendants that sentences may be harsher or bail may be granted less frequently when appearing virtually, for example because people may appear “shifty” on screens or may feel their case is a foregone conclusion when appearing from custody (Gibbs, 2017) or because it’s harder to send people to jail when they are in front of you as a real person (Diamond, Bowman, Wong, and Patton, 2010).

In the context of youth justice, a qualitative study involving interviews with legal professionals highlighted the risk that judges may be unable to see vulnerabilities of children so clearly when sentencing remotely, meaning mitigating factors may be harder to identify (Standing Committee for Youth Justice, 2018).

The contention that outcomes may be harsher in virtual courts is supported by research in the asylum context where some research suggests that immigrants are more likely to receive asylum in person than over video (Walsh and Walsh, 2007).

Last edited 04 January 2021 | 4:56 pm | Rebecca Helm
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Online justice and legal representation

Online Justice and Legal Representation Data Summary

Some research from pilot virtual courts shows that those using virtual courts may be more likely to opt to self-represent (Terry, Johnson, and Thompson, 2010).

Survey responses from legal professionals also suggest that defendants who are unrepresented may be most disadvantaged by virtual hearings – just under three-quarters of survey respondents felt that video hearings negatively affected the participation of unrepresented defendants (Gibbs, 2017).

Research also suggests that using virtual rather than in-person courts may influence the quality of the relationship between an advocate and their client.

  • Lawyers have raised concerns about discussing sensitive matters with their clients over video link, and video link hampering confidential communication and the provision of legal advice during a hearing (Plotnikoff and Woolfson, 2010; Terry, Johnson, and Thompson, 2010).
  • Defendants have noted concerns about video link being a barrier to communicating with their lawyer and leading to them not being represented effectively (Plotnikoff and Woolfson, 2000; McKay, 2015). However, one study of two experimental virtual trials suggested communication may be enhanced by using Zoom or Skype in virtual courts rather than the traditional dock where conversations may be conducted through a glass screen or at a distance (Mulcahy, Rowden, and Teeder, 2020).
  • Research in Australia highlights a risk that where defendants appear via video link from prison and their lawyers are at the court or another location, information may end up being explained to the defendant by an unqualified but physically close person (Rowden, Wallace, and Goodman-Delahunty, 2010).
  • Interviews with professionals involved in youth justice suggest that children appearing in court via video have less contact with their lawyer than children appearing in court in person and that holding discussions via video made it harder to build a rapport with children and identify deficits in understanding and participation (Standing Committee on Youth Justice, 2018).
  • Work examining a web-based booking tool pilot suggests that defendants may communicate less with their advocates in video courts (Fielding, Braun, Heike, and Mainwaring, 2020).
Last edited 05 January 2021 | 2:05 pm | Rebecca Helm
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online justice and vulnerability

Online Justice and Vulnerability Data Summary

Particular concerns have been raised about vulnerable defendants appearing in virtual courts.

Defendants with autism have been identified as one particularly vulnerable group in this regard. Research suggests video hearings can “atrophy” the ability of defendants with autism to participate in their trials and that defendants with autism may not associate the video link as being part of their case (Gibbs, 2017; Tidball, 2017).

Particular concerns have also been raised relating to child defendants. For example, the vulnerability and immaturity of children may not be seen as clearly when they appear remotely, and lawyers may have particular difficulties communicating remotely with child clients and assessing their understanding and participation (Standing Committee on Youth Justice, 2018).

Last edited 05 January 2021 | 2:33 pm | Rebecca Helm
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online justice and jury decisions

tagged data catalogue

Papers

Title Author(s) Year Tag(s) Link
A ‘Special’ Delivery? Exploring the Impact of Screens, Live-Links and Video-Recorded Evidence on Mock Juror Deliberation in Rape Trials Louise Ellison and Vanessa Munro 2014 Criminal justice, Juror perceptions View paper
A Report on Child Defendants and Video Links Standing Committee for Youth Justice 2018 client / lawyer relations, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Outcomes for child defendants, Plea rates, Sentencing View paper
A Virtual Day in Court: Design Thinking & Virtual Courts Jamie Young 2011 Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction View paper
Beyond Woolf: The Virtual Courthouse Robin Widdison 1997 Civil justice, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Juror perceptions View paper
Can Computers Be Fair? How Automated and Human-Powered Online Dispute Resolution Affect Procedural Justice in Mediation and Arbitration Ayelet Sela 2017 Civil justice, Defendant satisfaction View paper
Court-Custody Audio Visual Links Justice NSW 2017 Criminal justice, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction View paper
Criminal Justice and Videoconferencing Technology: The Remote Defendant Anne Poulin 2004 Criminal justice, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Juror perceptions View paper
Defendants on Video – Conveyor Belt Justice or a Revolution in Access Transform Justice 2017 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Equipment reliability / performance, Interpreter data, Outcomes for child defendants, Plea rates, Representation rates, Sentencing View paper
Digital Evidence in the Jury Room: The Impact of Mobile Technology on the Jury Laura Wajnryb McDonald, Meredith Rossner, Karen Gelb, and David Tait 2015 Criminal justice, Equipment reliability / performance, Juror perceptions View paper
Distributed Courts and Legitimacy: What do we Lose when we Lose the Courthouse Dr Emma Rowden 2018 Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Juror perceptions, Outcomes for child defendants View paper
Effective Processing or Assembly-Line Justice? The Use of Teleconferencing in Asylum Removal Hearings Frank Walsh and Edward Walsh 2007 Civil justice, Cost / speed / efficiency, Representation rates, Sentencing View paper
Efficiency and Cost: The Impact of Videoconferenced Hearings on Bail Decisions Shari Seidman Diamond, Locke E. Bowman, Manyee Wong and Matthew M. Patton 2010 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Sentencing View paper
Evaluation of Video Link Pilot Project at Manchester Crown Court Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson 2000 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction, Juror perceptions, Plea rates, Representation rates View paper
Exploring the Case for Virtual Jury Trials During the COVID-19 Crisis Professor Linda Mulcahy, Dr Emma Rowden and Ms Wend Teeder 2020 client / lawyer relations, Criminal justice, Equipment reliability / performance View paper
Face-to-face Confrontation: Effects of Closed-Circuit Technology on Children’s Eyewitness Testimony and Jurors’ Decisions Gail Goodman, Ann Tobey, Jennifer Batterman-Faunce, Holly Orcutt, Sherry Thomas, Cheryl Shapiro, and Toby Sachsenmaier 1998 Criminal justice, Juror perceptions View paper
Fish Out of Water: A Brief Overview of Social and Psychological Concerns about Videotaped Trials Gordon Bermant and M. Daniel Jacoubovitch 1975 Civil justice, Criminal justice, Juror perceptions View paper
Gateways to Justice: The use of Videoconferencing Technology to take Evidence in Australian Courts Anne Wallace and Emma Rowden 2009 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Equipment reliability / performance, Juror perceptions, Outcomes for child defendants View paper
Implementing Video hearings (Party-to-State): A Process Evaluation Dr Meredith Rossner and Martha McCurdy 2018 Civil justice, Cost / speed / efficiency, Defendant behaviour, Defendant satisfaction, Judicial satisfaction, Representation rates View paper
Judicial engagement and AV links: judicial perceptions from Australian courts Anne Wallace, Sharyn Roach Anleu and Kathy Mack 2019 Civil justice, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Defendant satisfaction, Judicial satisfaction View paper
Justice under Lockdown – A Survey of the Criminal Justice System in England & Wales between March and May 2020 Fair Trials 2020 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice View paper
Legal Assistance by Video Conferencing: What is known?  Suzie Forell, Meg Laufer and Erol Digiusto 2011 Civil justice, client / lawyer relations, Criminal justice, Equipment reliability / performance View paper
Media Technology and the Courts: The Case of Closed Circuit Video Arraignments in Miami, Florida W. Clinton Terry 1986 Criminal justice, Defendant satisfaction, Judicial satisfaction, Plea rates View paper
Pleading Guilty Online: Enhanced Vulnerability and Access to Justice Rebecca K. Helm 2021 Plea rates View paper
Preliminary Hearings: Video Links Evaluation of Pilot Projects Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson 1999 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction, Juror perceptions, Representation rates View paper
Remote Judging: the Impact of Videolinks on the Image and the Role of the Judge Anne Wallace and Emma Rowden 2018 Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction View paper
Sentencing by Video Link in Australia: Up in the Air Emma Rowden, Anne Wallace, and Jane Goodman-Delahunty 2010 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction, Sentencing View paper
Technology and the Courtroom: An Inquiry into Knowledge Making in Organisations Giovani Francesco Lanzara and Gerado Patriotta 2001 Criminal justice, Defendant satisfaction, Judicial satisfaction View paper
The “Curious Case” of an Unspoken Opening Speech Act: A Video-Ethnography of the Use of Video Communication in Courtroom Activities  Christian Licoppe and Laurence Dumoulin 2010 Civil justice, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction View paper
The Effects of Videotape Testimony in Jury Trials: Studies on Juror Decision Making, Information Retention, and Emotional Arousal Gerald R. Miller, David C. Bender, Frank Boster, B. Thomas Florence, Norman Fontes, John Hocking and Henry Nicholson 1975 Criminal justice, Juror perceptions View paper
The Governance of Adult Defendants with Autism through English Criminal Justice Policy and Criminal Court Practice Mary Tidball 2016 client / lawyer relations, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Equipment reliability / performance View paper
The Impact of Television on the Presentation and Reception of Children’s Testimony Graham Davies 1999 Criminal justice, Juror perceptions View paper
The Road to the Virtual Courtroom? A Consideration of Today’s — and Tomorrow’s — High Technology Courtrooms Fredric I. Lederer 1999 Criminal justice, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction, Juror perceptions View paper
The Unbearable Lightness of Being? Shifts Towards the Virtual Trial Linda Mulcahy 2008 Civil justice, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Equipment reliability / performance View paper
The use of Videoconferencing in Proceedings Conducted with the Assistance of an Interpreter AVIDICUS 2016 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Equipment reliability / performance, Interpreter data View paper
Towards a Distributed Courtroom Western Sydney University 2017 Civil justice, client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Equipment reliability / performance, Sentencing View paper
Trial by Videotape – Can Justice be Seen to be Done? David Doret 1974 Civil justice, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Equipment reliability / performance, Juror perceptions View paper
Video Enabled Justice Evaluation Professor Nigel Fielding, Professor Sabine Braun, Dr Graham Hieke, and Chelsea Mainwaring 2020 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Interpreter data, Judicial satisfaction, Outcomes for child defendants, Plea rates, Representation rates View paper
Video Links from Prison: Court ‘‘Appearance’’ within Carceral Space Carolyn McKay 2018 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant behaviour, Equipment reliability / performance View paper
Videoconferencing in the Field: A Heuristic Processing Model Carlos Ferran and Stephanie Watts 2008 Civil justice, Criminal justice, Juror perceptions View paper
Videotrials Diane Hartmus 1996 Civil justice, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Juror perceptions View paper
Virtual Court Pilot Outcome Evaluation Ministry of Justice 2010 client / lawyer relations, Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Interpreter data, Judicial satisfaction, Juror perceptions, Plea rates, Representation rates, Sentencing View paper
VIRTUAL COURT STUDY: REPORT OF A PILOT TEST 2018 David Tait and Vincent Tay 2019 Cost / speed / efficiency, Criminal justice, Equipment reliability / performance, Juror perceptions View paper
Virtual Courts and Putting ‘Summary’ back into ‘Summary Justice’: Merely Brief, or Unjust? Dr Emma Rowden 2013 Criminal justice, Summary View paper
Visible Justice: YouTube and the UK Supreme Court  Leslie J. Moran 2015 Civil justice, Criminal justice, Defendant satisfaction, Equipment reliability / performance, Judicial satisfaction View paper
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