Technology in the courtroom

One of my enduring interests is how we might use technology in the court room to help us do our job better.

Technology is a bit like fire: a good servant, but poor master. If we use it, we must use it because it helps achieve a better result. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. If we spend time fiddling with connections and software, or our head down in a notebook rather than engaging the Bench, we won’t be effective advocates. If we can help visualise and simplify complex information, we might be better advocates.

American lawyers seem to be leading the way in the use of technology in court.

Scene Systems uses animation technology to recreate crime scenes, accidents and other incidents. Have you seen it’s impressive US Airways Flight 1549 Reconstruction, the airliner that made an emergency landing on the Hudson River, New York? If not, here it is.

And blogs such as PDF Lawyers, Home Office Lawyer, and The Mac Lawyer are choc-full of good legal applications of technology.

Australian lawyers are seeing the benefits too. A few examples:

We can make good use of technology in our jurisdiction too.

One simple example is a timeline.

Let’s say a person accused of driving when disqualified relies on the Proudman v Dayman defence, claiming, “I didn’t know I’d lost my licence.” (Mind you, a licence is a legal authority to drive on public roads. If I believe I am legally authorised to drive when in fact I am not, is that a factual or legal mistake? May be a topic for a future post…)

Here’s an example based on several cases I’ve seen or heard, of multiple allegations of disqualified driving stretching over an extended period. The initial disqualification occurs at a s 37 hearing. At first glance, the claimed defence seems hard to rebut. But, a timeline easily shows only the first charge might be defeated by that charge.

(View a PDF of the timeline, or larger format of the movie.)

You can create time lines using software such as Timeline3D or SmartDraw.

Another easy-to-use bit of technology is Google Maps.

You can use it to provide a traditional map view of a relevant area, such as Parliament House.

And in most metropolitan areas, you can also use Street View.

(If you haven’t used Street View before, try clicking-and-dragging on the image. That lets you virtually look around!)

Of course, all of these are subject to the rules of evidence. So we require a witness to attest to their accuracy, or a concession under s 149AB of the Evidence Act 1958 (or s 191 of the Evidence Act 2008).

But used well and with proper foundation, these can be powerful tools.

What do you think? Have you used any technology in the courtroom? Did it help or hinder?

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