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Higher quality court videolinks will improve justice outcomes: study
Poor lighting, bad camera angles and technical glitches in videolink testimonies can affect justice outcomes in court, a new study has found, with researchers urging courts to adopt standardised videoconferencing guidelines.
The use of videoconferencing is on the rise in Australian courts, with over 50% of all court appearances for inmates in NSW last financial year occurring through videolink. Child and vulnerable witnesses also routinely give evidence via videolink.
The research team included experts from the University of Technology, Sydney, Edith Cowan University, the University of Western Sydney, the University of Canberra, Charles Sturt University, the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne.
The team analysed the design of rooms used by remote witnesses, experts and defendants to give evidence remotely by videolink, including the way the camera was set up. They also studied what happens in the lead up to the videoconference and just after it concludes.
Over three years, the researchers visited courts, prisons and remote sites, interviewing judicial officers, lawyers, court staff, court administrators and architects.
Distorted image, poor audio
They found that the image of the remote participant is often distorted, there are difficulties with simulating eye-contact and that audio quality is often poor, with voices sounding unnatural and unclear.
"What we found in the study was that these technical glitches result in poorer communication between people involved in the case. For things like examination and cross-examination, good communication is really important," said report co-author Dr Emma Rowden, a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney's School of Architecture.
"Poor design and a lack of adequate information can also affect peoples' behaviour in the remote space. People didn't always get a sense they were in court and that affected the impression they made on the people on the other side of the screen."
Dr Rowden gave one example in which the person giving a videolink testimony thought they were making eye contact with the lawyer, but to those in the courtroom, the remote person on the screen appeared to be looking away from the lawyer who was questioning them.
"It looked like the person was not really paying attention to the proceedings in the court. That affects the impression they make," she said.
"It's difficult to know what effect that poorer communication may have and it may vary from case to case. For some cases it may not be so much of an issue. But, at worst, it may mean the judge or the jury could misinterpret the remote participant's body language, and therefore, what is being said. That could affect justice outcomes in court, which is why adopting higher standards for video-mediated communications in court is so important."
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