A story in this morning’s Globe and Mail, Courts turn to video-conferencing testimony to cut costs, reports on issues related to using Skype for witness testimony in Ontario family court trials.In today’s “global family” world, these involve cases where one of the parties lives across an ocean (Denmark and Hong Kong). Travel costs and time are inhibitors to getting them to appear at the physical court house in Ontario.
“The legal system is going to be exposed to ridicule if we don’t move forward with innovative ways of taking evidence,” said Brian Gover, a veteran Toronto lawyer at Stockwoods LLP. “One of the great issues for us in a time of austerity is going to be cost control and delivering justice in an efficient way. Technology has provided an answer to the problem.”
The argument being debated centers around whether the judge needs to see the witness live “to properly observe their demeanour” while testifying. One lawyer points out how he feels that HD video’s resolution effectively allows viewers to observe the demeanour of the witnesses . Another feels it “threatens the integrity of the testimony”.
However, the article goes on with Mr. Gover’s view that “demeanour” should not be an influencing factor in making a decision:
Mr. Gover said that what critics are missing is a growing realization that analyzing an individual’s demeanour is a poor way to judge honesty. Wrongful convictions have frequently been rooted in erroneous conclusions a judge or jury drew from a defendant’s voice and body language, he said.
From a logistics perspective a key issue related to HD video is to ensure the witness has access to an HD webcam and a minimum 1.0 Mbps upload speed on the Internet service.
Bottom line: Skype video continues to bring new applications that can make a difference to how professional activities are carried out – in this case – playing a role in defining legal decisions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months.