Integrating technology into courtrooms has been a gradual process and not without its obstacles and challenges.
These days it is not uncommon for a defendant who is being held in custody to appear in the District Court via an audio visual link.
Three new protocols have been issued by the Chief District Court Judge, Jan-Marie Doogue.
- Audio Visual Links Procedure for Prisoner Appearance in Courts
- Architectural and Courtroom Transition Protocol
- Technological Failure Protocol
Judge Jan-Marie Doogue says research carried out into what other jurisdictions were doing overseas found the rights of defendants were enhanced by not having them appear in court in person, for what is sometimes a very short time before the court.
“There are often consequences to the routine of defendants at the correctional facility on account of going to court. This can include losing their cells, their jobs and then being returned to prison without having had the appropriate meals. They can be subjected to traveling in prison vans for long periods of time in discomfort only to spend time in court and then be returned to prison,” she says.
So AVL technology in the courtroom is a useful tool but Judge Doogue says there are access to justice issues associated with it that hadn’t been considered.
Civilian clothes rather than a jumpsuit
“Defendants should be afforded the opportunity to wear civilian clothes when they appear for a bail hearing. If the defendant is appearing in their orange suit, overseas research showed that would increase the likelihood of a judicial officer declining that person bail.
“It is effectively labelling them by appearing from prison because it is an institution associated with guilt rather than innocence,” she says.
When a defendant appears by AVL, the room they are being transmitted from is essentially part of the courtroom.
“They must be told this. They also need to be told that if they experience a technical fault, they can raise their hand and inform the court. They should also be able to speak with their counsel,” she says.
Judge Doogue says another area that needed clarification was insuring that the correct person was appearing via AVL.
The Chief District Court Judge witnessed a situation in Australia about 10 years ago where a magistrate in New South Wales was sentencing a Chinese defendant who kept insisting that he was not the right person for the particular case. The problem was the man’s last name rhymed with the name of the man who should have been appearing by AVL.
“The probably over-worked magistrate never looked up and in the end a pair of blue arms appeared to remove the man and another pair replaced him with the right defendant. That example was the genesis for the protocol of what the judicial officer has to do, in that a judge must establish and be satisfied the correct person is appearing via AVL,” she says.
When technology fails
Sometimes despite good intentions, technology can fail, and protocol has been designed to manage those situations.
Judge Doogue remembers a classic example of a technological breakdown in a District Court.
“There was a time in Wellington when a judge was sentencing a woman who was appearing from Arohata Prison by AVL. The judge ended up having to hold a piece of paper up for the female defendant to see a sentence of home detention and how many months it was. This happened because as he was in the middle of sentencing the woman, the technology failed and she could not hear what the judge was saying,” she says.
Judge Doogue says it was a crisis situation and there was no protocol for the judge at the time to follow.
The new protocol provides options such as the defendant being able to inform their lawyer, raising their hand before the courtroom and verbally addressing the court.