Will The Internet Replace The Courthouse?

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The Internet has changed everything. More and more businesses are divesting themselves of brick and mortar storefronts. More companies are allowing employees to work from home remotely. The legal field has experienced huge changes as a result of the Internet, as well. Legal research has moved from books to the Internet. There are lawyers who specialize in data breach litigation, e-discovery, and various other Internet-related areas. But the question we ask is, could the Internet replace the courthouse?

There are certainly financial reasons to do so. A trial is expensive for everyone involved. Fact witnesses and expert witnesses incur travel expenses that must be reimbursed. Jurors must be selected and compensated. Bailiffs must keep watch over the security of the courthouse and the courtroom. Paper exhibits must be copied. The courthouse uses electricity for HVAC, lighting, and security equipment. Could many of these costs be eliminated by conducting the proceedings remotely?

The lawyers could argue and witnesses could testify remotely from their home or office via teleconferencing equipment, the judge could preside over the case by watching the arguments and testimony over a screen, and the jury could watch the proceedings on a computer monitor from the comfort of their home or from a remote facility. Any members of the public interested in watching the proceedings can stream the trial live. The jury then has the opportunity to deliberate with each other via a secure Skype-like program. This same technology could be used to streamline motion arguments and any other court proceeding. It seems like this would save litigants and taxpayers a lot of money. But would it be a good thing?

We would be hesitant to embrace such a drastic change in the court system. There is something about everyone being physically present in the same room that reminds everyone they are dealing with human beings and that the result of the trial impacts lives, businesses, et cetera. We fear that putting the Internet between all of the players involved with a trial could introduce an element of anonymity or dehumanization that would not serve the best interests of the people involved.

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