A trans-Tasman research team wants to analyse the stories of people who have participated in online legal hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remote Justice Stories is a collaboration between researchers at the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation (ACJI) at Monash University, and the University of Otago’s Legal Issues Centre.

Bridgette Toy-Cronin

Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin

The initiative is led by the centres’ directors, Associate Professor Genevieve Grant and Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin. The stories of litigants, lawyers and judicial staff will be collected and published on a new website, Remote Justice Stories.

The researchers say that almost overnight the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way the civil justice system worked, forcing the previously slow-moving Australian and New Zealand justice systems (which relied on traditional in-person hearings and trials) to move their operations online, minimise in-person proceedings and conduct a range of hearings using phone and video conferencing.

Analysing participants’ stories will shed light on how this sudden move from a cautious approach to online processes has impacted on practice during the pandemic, and how it will affect online hearings in future post-pandemic times.

“The perspectives of people who have experienced this sudden change in our justice system are very important and could be invaluable as we emerge in the post-pandemic era. We would welcome stories from anyone involved – such as clients, lawyers, and judicial officers. We hope the research will help the courts, policy-makers, practitioners and users of legal services,” says Associate Professor Grant.

“Whether it’s a short observation, an expression of frustration or humour, or a detailed and detached analysis, we would like to hear it. Together the stories will provide a rich user picture that can aid future development and form a record of civil justice in an extraordinary time,” says Dr Toy-Cronin.

The challenges of delivering justice remotely during a pandemic involve many questions. What attributes of cases make them suitable or unsuitable for remote hearing? Which court users, if any, are advantaged or disadvantaged by the new arrangements? And how does remote evidence differ from live evidence?

The research aims to:
• Explore the experiences of participants in remote hearings and civil litigation.
• Identify barriers to and facilitators of effective remote hearings and civil litigation.
• Investigate changes in the roles and responsibilities of participants in civil litigation in view of the remote delivery of justice.
• Explore how remote hearings and civil litigation compare to traditional face-to-face approaches to civil litigation.

People can contribute their story on the Remote Justice Stories website, which includes a link to an online submission form.