Understanding the Law
May 13, 2011
Technology – a necessity in the Court

The world of electronics is at our fingertips and we only have to make a deliberate effort to make frequent use of it in our Courts.{{more}} We have been already drawn into the world of electronics associated with the usage in the United States. I was recently involved in a case which was literally heard in my Chambers. My client applied to the court in the United States for the matter to be heard electronically and the request was granted. Thereafter, the other party who was based in the US appeared before the judge while my client appeared in my chambers. There was no obstacle to the conduct of the matter. The party before the judge provided the necessary identification by recognizing the voice of my client. My client was sworn in and was able to give evidence by way of the telephone. After a few adjournments, the matter eventually came to an end to the satisfaction of my client. A paper judgment was later received from the court.

Making the court accessible

Teleconferencing is essentially a way of accommodating a party or witness who for some legitimate reason cannot be present at the designated courtroom. This accommodation means that a person does not have to journey to the United States or the court does not have to physically come to St. Vincent every time a matter is heard. This is a way of extending justice to persons who because of their location or for any good reason may not be able to access the court. This is an age of affordable Internet communication and this could help to reduce costs. Persons overseas have to incur great expenses to journey to the court’s location to have a matter heard. This would help to prevent a person from having to travel to St. Vincent only to be told on arrival that the matter is adjourned. It could also help to shorten the queue and the waiting for lawyers and parties especially for matters such as possessory titles. While teleconferencing might be perfectly convenient in civil matters it would pose some difficulties for criminal matters where there is a jury and where there is a need to observe the demeanor of the witness.

Teleconferencing/video conferencing

At least three Court of Appeal judges have to travel three times per year to the nine jurisdictions in the Eastern Caribbean. A Master has to travel once per month (excluding vacation) to the nine jurisdictions. Each government must contribute to travel expenses and hotel accommodation for these itinerant justices of the appeal and masters. The expenses incurred will have to be measured against that of teleconferencing/video conferencing and I am certain that a judge at a regular location as opposed to a travel weary judge who is always on the move would be able to use his energy more meaningfully.

Video conferencing equipment

The equipment for video conferencing is already here in SVG. The laws would have to be amended to provide justice in this new way. We cannot be left behind and it is hoped that the adage that justice delayed is justice denied would no longer be applicable. Special provision would have to be made for parties without lawyers. Yes, it is time for changes in the system and justice must march on in the new age. There would have to be a reliable source of electricity as it plays an important role in digital communication systems.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com