The Future of Courts by Professor Richard Susskind

August 3, 2020

In the middle of March 2020, court buildings around the world began to close in response to the rapid spread of a newly identified coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 (the “virus”). Within days, alternative ways of delivering court service were put in place in many jurisdictions. The uptake of various technologies, especially video, was accelerated in the justice systems of numerous countries. There remain some skeptics and critics, but in light of the experience during the crisis, there is certainly greater acceptance now than in February 2020—amongst lawyers, judges, officials, and court users—that judicial and court work might be undertaken very differently in years to come. Minds have been opened and changed over the past few months. Many assumptions have been swept aside.

We remain in an era of threat, with risks of barely functioning court systems, greatly reduced access to justice, and, in turn, a potential weakening of the rule of law. We are also in an era of opportunity—the chance to build boldly on the shift of attitude and on demonstrable recent successes with technology, and to put in place improved, sustainable court services that are much more accessible than today’s.

In this article, I consider the impact of the virus on our courts. I start by outlining the challenges that our justice systems currently face and suggest we need a new mindset if we are to tackle these successfully. I then introduce the various types of remote courts that have been deployed during the crisis and summarize what has been achieved so far and what lessons we have learned, offering the UK Supreme Court as a case study. Thereafter I explore the concept of virtual juries, and unearth the many ways in which the term “justice” is used in debate about remote courts. In the latter part of the article I introduce the concept of “front-ends” and argue that they will be indispensable in justice systems of tomorrow. I conclude by recommending how courts should plan for the future.

Read the full article here:

Richard Susskind is President of the Society for Computers and Law, technology adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and chair of the advisory board and visiting professor at the Oxford Internet Institute.