In an episode of the sci-fi show Doctor Who, the time-travelling Doctor faces trial. To convince the court that he has learnt his lesson, the Doctor provides a glimpse into the future which shows he’s been reformed.

Today’s defendants will no doubt be disappointed that time-travel technology is not available. However, they will still be able to present their case as technology is allowing court proceedings to continue throughout the pandemic.

The spokesperson from the Office of the Judiciary in Thailand’s Court of Justice shares how digital tools allow for their work to carry on. They share how online portals, virtual meetings and AI are creating a safer and more convenient approach to justice.

Remote court hearings 

To protect public health during the pandemic, Thailand’s court system adopted virtual trials to allow proceedings to continue. This reduced the number of cases that had to be postponed, relieving the case backlog, shares the spokesperson.

While remote hearings were used for criminal and civil cases, they were also used for other means of solving disputes. For example, a citizen can file for arbitration, an agreement made outside of court, on the internet and then attend the meeting via video call.

Thailand is not alone in organising remote court hearings. Indonesia’s government adopted video conferencing so it can “carry on with the judicial process during the outbreak” and no longer have to postpone any trials, said a spokesperson from their Supreme Court.

Malaysia also adopted remote hearings, with participants able to settle cases via video call, email or through an online service. Experts highlighted that this change would require better internet connectivity and appropriate set ups in prisons, GovInsider wrote.

As Singapore adopted remote hearings, its citizens should be “ready to access the justice system in new and perhaps unfamiliar ways” said Singapore’s Chief Justice. It is worth looking into video-call tech being set up in the community to avoid travel to the courthouse, said Toh Yung Cheong, Chief Information Officer of Singapore’s State Courts.

Taking the court digital

Thailand’s courts had to do more than just allow video conferencing. They also had to ensure everyone involved in legal proceedings could share documents and information without appearing in-person, the spokesperson explains.

The Court of Justice introduced three key tools to help. First, it used its online filing systems, where parties can submit their pleadings and court documents. The systems also allow court attendees to track their case progress.

Second, Thailand developed a website to share court notices, which were previously posted in the newspaper. Having this information online means that it is free to access, available from any location, and helps shift the courts to become more paperless.

Third, the court used a digital signature tool so citizens can securely sign documents in a contactless and remote way.

Supporting staff with technology

The Court of Justice is exploring the use of AI to support citizens and its staff. One potential use is helping citizens evaluate whether in-court or out-of-court settlements are more appropriate for their dispute resolution, the spokesperson shares.

AI could also be used to support the work of judges. AI may be able to help with a search engine for supreme court documents for example, but it won’t make decisions in place of judges, the spokesperson states.

The court’s staff is made up of different generations, each with different skills and attitudes towards technology. But it is putting in place workplace initiatives “to leave no one behind” as it adopts new technology.

One new initiative is classifying the use of technology as a measure of work performance, tracking the progress of employee’s digital literacy. It is also providing tech training classes for staff.

The court will be giving awards and providing moral support for its staff as they progress on this digital journey. It will ensure that online systems are designed in a user-friendly way, to help those less familiar with technology, the spokesperson adds.

Essential services like the judicial system can’t afford to be put on hold as nations tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Innovative tech tools allow court hearings and judicial staff to continue bringing justice to citizens.