Trials for video link court cases

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012

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The sight of lawyers arguing for their clients in front of a judge in the same courtroom may soon become less frequent.

The Government is trialling "mock" family court hearings in which the participants are scattered throughout the country but brought together by video link.

A mock hearing was held in Invercargill this week to test web-based video conferencing technology to see whether it could be used to link judges in main centres with lawyers and their clients in more remote locations.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows said the family court hearings via video link would bring New Zealand courts into the 21st century, offering accessibility, efficiency and convenience.

He also said it would reduce costs and travel time for those involved.

The video conferencing enabled courts to operate in areas without courthouses, so had the potential to increase access to justice for rural communities, he said.

Invercargill lawyer Kate McHugh, who participated in the mock hearing, said she believed video conference court hearings would have a place, particularly when lawyers and clients were based in remote areas, but they wouldn't work in some instances.

Having family court hearings involving everyone in the same courtroom at the same time was a better option in many cases, she said.

"You can't ever underestimate the value of having your client in the presence of a judge in the courtroom, particularly in difficult or complex cases."

Having clients in front of judges promoted the resolution of cases; while hearings done via video link desensitised the whole environment, she said.

But Mr Borrows said he believed the engagement between parties via video would improve as technology improved.

Ms McHugh said she did not think video conferencing would work in a criminal court hearing.

But Mr Borrows said the video link hearings may be expanded to the criminal courts, adding they would have their uses in the likes of uncontested cases.

The mock family court case via video link was presided over by Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier who was in Wellington, with the three lawyers based in Balclutha, Queenstown and Ms McHugh in Invercargill.

Although a success overall, there were glitches, with one of the lawyers disappearing off the screen for several minutes due to a technical problem.

More video link family court hearings will be held over a six-month trial period next year to determine which type of family law cases can be heard using web-based technology.

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- The Southland Times

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