Some Implications of Online Hearings

Few doubt that online proceedings will continue after the pandemic is over. In an insightful article, law professor Amy Salyzyn considers how this format will alter the hearing process. While supportive of the development, Professor Salyzyn discusses the privacy implications and the impact online hearings may have on hearing participants.

Public Access Implications

  • As a practical matter, it is very difficult for members of the public to attend hearings. Online access to hearings, especially if they are recorded, eliminates many of those practical barriers.
  • However, in order to ensure public access to hearings, upcoming hearings with links to join them have to be listed online at an accessible location. In addition, protocols need to be established for obtaining access to exhibits.
  • At the present time, members of the public need to travel to the hearing and arrive at a set time in order to view the hearing and observe witness testimony. Practically, these burdens result in obscurity for witnesses and other participants. With online hearings, intimate and personal details will become more readily accessible and may result in voyeuristic, rather than educational, access. There may even be examples where the information can be mined for financial gain.

Impact on Hearing Participants

  • Where some participants attend in person, there is an imbalance in the extent of participation. Those who attend online can be dehumanized (especially in criminal matters) and are often perceived as less credible or less worthy of clemency.
  • There is often less formality when the hearing is held online, including background noises, disruption by pets and children, and seeing the backdrop from a person’s home. This informality can affect the clarity of the information provided as well as the perception of the participant.
  • Portions of the hearing process, such as a reduced ability to hold sidebar conversations or being able to hear whispered comments by adjudicators, will be different from in-person hearings in a way that could affect the process.

These variances arising from the process platforms should be considered and, in some cases, compensated for, as online hearings become more common. The article can be found at: http://www.slaw.ca/2020/04/17/trial-by-zoom-what-virtual-hearings-might-mean-for-open-courts-participant-privacy-and-the-integrity-of-court-proceedings/.

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