COVID-19 and social distancing rules have forced radical changes upon the justice system with many trials now having to take place online from participants homes with no one being present in a physical courtroom. There is currently no online support to prepare members of the public for appearing in court from their own home or to guide them around these new virtual spaces. This poses a number of challenges to the validity of the process with many interest groups expressing concern about due process and the dangers of alienating court users from the process. There are particular concerns about the ability of the digitally impoverished, vulnerable and other lay users to participate effectively in this new way of doing justice.
Working in partnership with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service this project will draw on exiting research and extensive consultation with the public, court staff, interest groups, practitioners and policy makers to produce a series of audio-visual guides for virtual courts users and a central repository of good practice materials. It will be guided by the five key goals of enhancing technical competence; improving understanding of court processes; supporting court users in navigating the alternative geographies and sense of time in virtual space; engendering a sense of journeys to and from civic space; and promoting dignity and gravitas in virtual court proceedings.
This project is funded by the ESRC under the UKRI Ideas to address COVID funding stream. The project team will draw on the advice of a project advisory board chaired by Sir Ernest Ryder. The project will run from 1st November 2020 until 31st March 2022.