Court sentencing by videolink

1 FEBRUARY 2011

A new study by a CSU researcher and colleagues offers original data that provides an evidence-base to inform the justice system and policy-makers about Australian courts sentencing by videolink.

CSU's Professor Jane Goodman-DelahuntyA new study by a Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher and colleagues offers original data that provides an evidence-base to inform the justice system and policy-makers about Australian courts sentencing by videolink.
 
 ‘Sentencing by videolink: up in the air?’,* by Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty, a researcher at the CSU Australian Graduate School of Policing in Manly and the School of Psychology in Bathurst, and her research associates Ms Emma Rowden and Assistant Professor Anne Wallace, reports on the findings of the Gateways to Justice project funded by the Australian Research Council.**
 
Professor Goodman-Delahunty says that a pilot scheme in the United Kingdom, where defendants who plead guilty to certain offences remotely from a police station are sentenced via videolink, has sparked considerable controversy, and that sentencing by videolink also occurs in Australia but has attracted less attention.
 
“Our courts are dealing with lawyers, witnesses and defendants born after 1980 who are part of the ‘net generation’,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said. “These individuals have been exposed to more types of media, express more comfort with media-generated information and multi-tasking, and expect courts to offer high-quality technological services. *** (See Media Note at end)
 
“Our institutions and organizations, including courts, are being restructured by digitally-mediated communications and the expectations of this generation. It is timely for this shift to be explicitly acknowledged in legal settings, both in sentencing and other judicial processes.
 
“But the enabling legislation in Australia contains few guidelines for the exercise of judicial discretion, and little is known about the nature and scope of remote, or videolinked, sentencing, or its impact on the sentencing process and participants.”
 
The researchers found that few courts keep records about videolink use, and where records are maintained, they often do not specify the nature of the matter, or distinguish one type of proceeding from another. They argue that many fundamental questions remain unanswered, such as: is it inappropriate and undignified for serious legal proceedings to be conducted by videolink? Does the remote sentencing process pose insurmountable communication difficulties?
 
Professor Goodman-Delahunty says this Australian empirical study presents unique findings about uses of videoconferencing in the justice system based on semi-structured interviews with 56 judicial officers, court administrators, court staff, justice department officials, prosecutors, witnesses and lawyers. Their responses about sentencing reflected both the rationale for implementing remote sentencing, as well as concerns about remote sentencing procedures. 
 
“The study results indicate that the use of videolinks can alter the nature of sentencing proceedings, and we found that views that technology necessarily degrades the sentencing process or renders it less effective, are overly simplistic,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said.
 
“We suggest that attention to the configuration of the technology and participants, as well as protocols and procedures for videolink use, can potentially preserve the essential functions of sentencing conducted remotely, and we recommend ways to address stakeholders’ concerns without compromising the critical features of sentencing proceedings.
 
“The introduction of audiovisual technology in court represents the second major technological shift which the law has had to accommodate (the first being that from oral to written modes of communication) and liberates us from the restraints of travel, time-zones and remote locations.
 
“Courts and justice agencies generally, will benefit from scrutinising emerging research on the more general effects of technology-mediated communication, both in the courtroom and elsewhere. Courts of the future may yet find, as in the case of previous technology shifts, that remote technology offers different, and, in some cases, even superior capacities to conduct sentencing, and other types of judicial hearings.”

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