Recently, the Metaverse hosted a court hearing in Colombia, where the participants used virtual reality headsets and acted as avatars. The Colombian justice system is becoming a forerunner in adopting cutting-edge technology, and the Metaverse court hearing followed a Colombian judge who used the artificial intelligence application, ChatGPT, to prepare a verdict.
Reaction to the hearing (which can be seen here) was mixed – some saw it as an exciting step forward, others were concerned, for example, that the hearing lacked seriousness.
Because avatars do not reflect a witness’s actual facial expression and body language, using the technology at this stage of the court hearing is equivalent to evaluating witness testimony in a telephone hearing and not a video-based hearing (e.g. Cloud Video Platform (CVP) currently used by labor courts). becomes).
Could virtual reality court and tribunal hearings be the future in the UK?
Verifying an individual’s identity will be important when an avatar is used in court hearings – in the Colombian case, participants were instructed to enter a verification code to prove their identity.
As with some CVP hearings, concerns can also arise about whether someone is being coached during their testimony. However, until technology advances to the point that some sort of augmented reality could potentially be used so that you’re actually observing the actual person’s facial expressions and body language, the telltale signs of it will be harder to spot. Regarding the evaluation of witness testimony, the same problems generally arise with current avatars, although there is of course some debate as to how much weight a court or tribunal should place on a witness’ ‘conduct’ in giving testimony. However, at the moment in many court hearings it is considered crucial that a witness be seen while giving evidence.
Added to this is the issue of accessibility and affordability of virtual reality hardware. It’s hard to imagine this technology being adopted by labor courts any time soon when users of the courts are being told that resources are constantly being stretched. Affected individuals often struggle to log into the CVP, let alone deal with more complex technology, and while most people today own a smartphone, most households do not have virtual reality headsets. Reports also suggest that women are more prone to virtual reality-related motion sickness than men – any negative bias on this basis (whatever the underlying cause may be) would need to be addressed to ensure equal access and experience .
So in terms of UK court hearings, the answer is probably ‘not for now’, but the Metaverse is already being used successfully in a variety of settings. Accenture, for example, is reportedly successfully using a metaverse they created called “Nth Floor” for employee onboarding. The benefits of training staff in a 3D virtual world in areas such as surgery, aviation, and how to deal with aggressive individuals or dangerous situations are clear, and the metaverse can enable improved remote collaboration in design work.
The pandemic has spurred remote access to court hearings in ways that could not have been foreseen, and despite the challenges posed by the metaverse, it is possible to see a future (though perhaps not the immediate future) in which the Virtual reality technology will allow remote hearings to be even more effective.