A jury system that caters for the computer generation?

When so many enthusiasts are tweeting, blogging, conferencing and opining on social media and social networking, we really like to see an article taking a very specific issue, reviewing the influence of new technology, and raising some important questions.

So it is with an article from TimesOnline about jury trials and new technology.

‘The jury system is threatened by the internet generation, who no longer get their information from listening to people speaking, the Lord Chief Justice warned yesterday.’

When I did my law degree, an examination at The College of Law was often a ‘viva’, or oral examination.  Add to that moot courts and you can see it was all about learning to order your thoughts, to get up on your feet and speak.

It presupposed that the audience for your brilliance – the judge, your opponents, and in some cases a jury – was used to or able to sit and listen. But as a UK Bar Council member noted, our propensity to sit and listen to sermons, or oratory, has declined over the years.

Not only is information online packaged differently (from bite sized chunks to huge amounts of core data), it comes in so many more forms, from so many more sources.

If we have a whole generation that is used to obtaining information from technology, what does that mean for jury trials? The article suggests that ‘Evidence might be presented on screens; jurors could be given screens to take away; they might then press buttons to obtain the information they wanted.’

And why not? If a new generation is used to sourcing, thinking, analysing and reviewing information in a different way, should we cling to the ‘old’ ways of doing things? Why can’t jurors access more ‘source’ material? Why should I listen to a spoken submission, when a well written paper or pre-recorded session allows me to listen/read at my own pace and return to it when I need clarification?

Perhaps what is confronting about this issue is the assumptions, and the culture, that sit beneath the current model. That’s true for any organisation contemplating social media and web 2.0 tools. But here we have the history of the jury trial, and the role of all the players in it.

As the Lord Chief Justice notes – ‘what we don’t want to have is what we sometimes do have — the acknowledgment of the crisis long after it’s in existence and then efforts to plaster over it.’ Hear hear. When licensing and copyright issues still create very real barriers for organisations in making information available online and retaining some control over it, it would be gratifying to see the profession start to address this issue now.

It’s a fundamental shift, in a complex environment, that has serious ramifications for us all if changes don’t serve us well. Legal practitioners need to be familiar with the technological changes and tools, and legal convention and rules need to be reviewed to see whether they can encompass new approaches.

The Federal Court recently saw live Twitter feeds from journalists following the iiNet case. While that is quite a step forward in transparency, there is a great deal more to do.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.