While Covid-19 has deprived us of many things we once considered a normal part of our lives, it has also introduced us to new lifestyles we never thought we would have. Despite the pandemic’s disruption of our justice system, shutting it down is not an option. Instead, the Covid-19 pandemic introduced us to virtual courtrooms. Most virtual courtrooms rely on Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meets. The virtual courtroom system comes with many advantages and disadvantages but the real question is: does the good outweigh the bad?
Many believe virtual courtrooms pose a threat to not only their privacy but also their Due Process rights. Others have completely forgotten courtroom etiquette. Judge Dennis Bailey of Broward County finds it unbelievable “how many attorneys appear inappropriately on camera.” Some attorneys appear shirtless, still in bed, and still under the covers. But most importantly, virtual courtrooms mean that judges cannot monitor people as they would during in-person hearings. If witnesses are being coached, attorneys are using their cellphones, or sequestered witnesses are listening through another device; the judge will never know.
Aside from lowering the spread of Covid-19, virtual courtrooms actually come with numerous advantages. Litigants can now advocate from the comfort of their homes, while also avoiding traffic and long security lines. In addition, some judges believe Zoom hearings allow them to better judge witnesses’ credibility because of the constant eye-to-eye contact (so long as no filters are turned on). In family cases, judges now have the advantage of having first-hand knowledge of the minor’s home conditions since most parents join the Zoom hearings from their home. This allows judges to make a proper assessment of the minor’s living conditions. Whether the good outweighs the bad is up for debate as many will differ in their opinions. But where we can all agree is that a virtual justice system is better than no justice system at all.