A Leading-edge e-court in Australia

April 30, 1998

The conduct of the committal hearing in the Falconio backpacker matter provided the motivation for the Department of Justice to source a cost-effective and efficient method of managing the hearing. The Department had the opportunity to capitialise on both constructing a courtroom and fitting it out with technology that would support the needs of the users for the next five years. One of the prime objectives of the Department of Justice was ensuring that the successful supplier provided the court with a system that fully integrated the various aspects of the evidence trail and would integrate into systems that the court had already implemented. The objective was simple; one operator had to be able to manage all aspects of the hearing from a central location through one system.

The courtroom opened in Darwin earlier this year in preparation for the committal hearing into the murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio. Bradley John Murdoch is accused of the murder of Mr Falconio beside an outback highway near Barron Creek, north of Alice Springs, and the unlawful assault and deprivation of liberty of Mr Falconio’s girlfriend, Joanne Lees.

It is expected that more than 60 witnesses will be called to provide evidence and statements throughout the committal hearing.

The Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Department of Infrastructure Planning and Environment, supervised the refitting of the Courtroom of “Court Six” in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Australia. The cost of the fit-out was approximately $900k, with the previously unfurnished storage room being transformed into a fully electronic courtroom. Our company, 3C Consulting Group, was appointed as Project Manager by the Supreme Court.

The Northern Territory Attorney General, Dr Toyne said “the refitting of Court Six also provided a chance to change the configuration of the court, based on advice from the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and other stakeholders such as the Legal Aid Commission,”

Evidence Management Overview

One of the key drivers which meant that the hearing of this matter was to be electronic was that the case preparation carried out by the Office of the Director of the Public Prosecutions (DPP) was all done electronically.

When this matter was first handed to the DPP in the Northern Territory, Senior Crown Prosecutor, Tony Elliott identified the amount of potential evidence and immediately undertook steps to have all the hard-copy evidence processed into electronic evidence. This was done in accordance with protocols which were prepared in line with the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory Practice Direction 2 of 2002. This Practice Direction provides guidelines for the use of technology in civil litigation matters and, in the absence of a practice direction for criminal matters, this was relied upon.

The evidence has been managed as follows:

· 60,000 individual pieces of evidence (digital photographs, video tapes, audio tapes and expert reports) were processed into scanned images or PDF files – 600 of these were witness statements gathered during the police investigation and processed into the electronic system

· analyses and workflow management of the evidence was conducted through the case management system – the court delivered the system to the their staff through a secure connection remotely outside the courtroom

· a fully integrated workflow and court management system was implemented, the system securely manages all evidence exhibited and any court associated documents including transcript

· Workgroup collaboration is achieved through the utilization of Court book and the case management systems with all other systems utilizing Court book as the primary repository of court document management.

Technology Overview

Electronic courtrooms in different forms are being used extensively throughout the world on a number of cases; however, it would appear that “Court Six” is the first to be fully integrated in this way. All evidence is being delivered in the courtroom through the use of technology. The entire courtroom has been built to support leading-edge audio and visual technologies.

The following systems are working seamlessly together:

· Evidence (audio, paper produced as images, graphics) is delivered via the electronic Court book, a Web browser.

· Evidence is displayed via a large plasma screen to the court and to the parties at the Bar table.

· The hearing transcript is provided internally and externally to parties participating in the hearing and it is also linked dynamically to the evidence stored in the Court book.

· The court infrastructure is based on a standard Cat 5 cabling sub-system allowing all data communications, audio and video signals to be transmitted over standard Cat 5 LAN cable and avoiding the need for multiple cabling systems in the court.

· The Audio “Bespoke” system consisted of “beam steered line array” technology, and the digital audio system was based upon the Biamp Audia, consisting of 24 inputs and 48 outputs. There are 40 channels of amplification.

· Visual displays are managed through a high resolution VGA distribution system based on Magenta Research Cat 5 technology, an AMX Touch Screen system control, 50” Pioneer Plasma display, series of desktop LCD’s.

· Video Conferencing facilities are provided through a Tandberg system.

· The new realtime audio recording was integrated into the existing Supreme Court facilities.

As this is a permanent court within the Supreme Court facility in the Northern Territory, all efforts are being made to transfer knowledge around the workflows both in the courtroom and remotely, and train judicial staff to use the technology to ensure the time efficiencies and cost-effective benefits of this new facility are realized sooner rather than later. As a case in point, during the eight-week break in the Falconio committal hearing a complicated people smuggling case was heard in the eCourt utilising most of the technology, in particular the state of the art video conferencing facility which is being used for remote witness testimony.


Only time will tell if this facility will be used to its capacity – managing a full ejury trial and the issues that that will raise with respect to the jury having electronic access to exhibits etc.

All we know is that a fully integrated solution combining processes and technology has been put in place to manage this with ease, it is now only the legal issues that might prove to be a barrier.

About the Authors

SANDRA POTTER and PHIL FARRELLY are co-chairs of the Victorian Society of Computers and the Law Practice and Procedures Focus Group and Directors of 3C Consulting Group, which provides specialist knowledge management advice to the legal profession, justice agencies and government organisations. They can be contacted at sandra.potter@3ccg.com and phil.farrelly@3ccg.com respectively.