Online Courts: Re-Assessing Inequality in the ‘Remote’ Courtroom
This paper explores the repercussions of the virtual hearings within the context of socioeconomic inequality in the justice system. Following the imposition of ‘lockdown’ conditions in the UK in March 2020, the Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) rapidly introduced an online court system resulting in thousands of hearings being swiftly transferred onto audio or video-calling platforms. This study is based on interviews with six barristers and solicitors practising in the criminal and family courts, focusing on what the online court experience can reveal about the disparity in socioeconomic status between those judging and those being judged. Conducting a thematic analysis of the interview data, I argue that the disruption to the courtroom dynamics caused by online hearings highlights tacit functions of the lawyer’s role in supporting their clients to navigate the daunting court experience and comply with courtroom customs. I ultimately conclude that concerns regarding the loss of solemnity of proceedings reveal assumptions of both the traditional and virtual court environment and suggest that further research is needed before committing to permanent technology reforms.
Copyright (c) 2021 Vanessa Long
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