- How the Pandemic Impact Family Court Hearings
- Pros and Cons of Remote Court Hearings
- Preparing for a Remote Court Hearing
When the pandemic swept through the globe in 2020, many processes changed. With everything from business meetings, schooling, birthday parties, and even athletic classes moving to zoom, court hearings were no exception.
Most courts around the country and globe introduced remote court hearings for civil cases to reduce the spread of the virus over zoom or other video conferencing platforms.
What is The Future of Remote Court Hearings?
With many other types of meetings and classes slowly returning to in-person sessions, legal experts say remote court hearings are here to stay.
How The Pandemic Affected Court Hearings
With the appearance of the global pandemic, federal and local courts were forced to adapt. In doing so, they adopted the practice of remote court hearings, seemingly overnight to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in an effort to keep their communities safer. This meant instead of physically appearing in court, court hearings are being held over Zoom or other video conference platforms.
While courts have slowly rolled out some online options over the past two decades, including online dispute resolution and electronic filing, the pandemic drove courts to embrace technology quickly. In this article, we discuss the positives that have been observed, as well as a couple of growing pains that courts and their attendees had to overcome.
Remote Court Hearings To Remain Post Pandemic
“We’re going to be doing court business remotely forever,” said Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court and co-chair of the National Center for State Court’s pandemic rapid response team. After experiencing the added benefits of remote hearings, many courts have adopted remote hearings as a standard practice with no intention to return to mandatory in-person hearings as practiced previously. While court cases are held virtually on a case-by-case basis and at the discretion of the judge, many types of cases including traffic cases, family law cases, and many types of civil cases have been successfully held virtually. Since the beginning of the pandemic, millions of arraignments, settlement conferences, and trials have been held virtually.
Pros And Cons Of Remote Court Hearings
With the main driver of remote court hearings being the ability to reduce physical contact, many professionals are finding that these hearings hold additional benefits as well. By holding virtual hearings, it has become easier for all parties to schedule and commit to court dates without the added hassle of needing to find childcare, take time off work, and worry about needing to find transportation to and from the court itself. This has also translated to less of a financial burden to participants who will not have to pay for gas, childcare, and parking fees.
Additionally, there have been benefits for victims of domestic violence who can participate in the hearings from a safe, undisclosed location, with the added benefit of not having to face their abuser in person. This being said, if a domestic violence victim is still living in the same household as the abuser, it can make the situation more difficult for these victims. Another downside to remote court hearings is that all participants must be computer-savvy enough to use the teleconferencing platform and ensure that their webcam and microphone are functioning properly. With the introduction of virtual court proceedings, there have been a number of safety concerns that have presented themselves.
There have been multiple reports of virtual court sessions being hacked into and interrupted by hackers who have displayed vulgar videos and images onto the screens of court participants. These instances have since led courts to reassess their security practices and enforce extra security measures while holding remote court sessions.
How To Prepare For Your Remote Court Hearing
While a lot of people find virtual court hearings to be easier and more efficient compared to in-person hearings, there are some things you will want to do beforehand to ensure your session goes as smoothly as possible.
First, you will want to verify which video conferencing software your hearing will be conducted on. Most courts are using Zoom, but there are a handful that use different types of software, so your best bet is to double-check prior to your meeting. If your case is being handled over Zoom, make sure you create a free account and ensure your information is accurate. Be sure to verify your account through the email that was sent to you when you created your zoom account.
Make sure your video and audio are working properly, and that you know how to turn on and off your camera and use the mute button. Doing a test meeting can help you avoid any mishaps during your court hearing. You can join a ‘test’ meeting to test your audio and video by going to zoom.us/test and clicking “Join”. Make sure you are set up in a location with good lighting and minimum background noise.
The location you choose to conduct your meeting at should have a strong internet connection to help avoid video and audio delays. If you’re joining the hearing on a mobile device such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, you will want to make sure you have enough battery for the entire session. The meeting may last longer than you expect, so plugging your device into its charger for the meeting will be your best option.
The judge may have you tilt the camera in different directions to ensure you aren’t using notes or other written material during the hearing. Even though your court hearing is being held remotely, you should still dress as if you are going into court in person and present yourself as professionally as possible. Lastly, be sure to arrive online at your meeting at least 5-10 minutes early so you can be prepared.