Courts across Victoria will immediately begin testing virtual courtroom technology after in-person hearings and trials were suspended due to the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic.
Supreme Court chief justice Anne Ferguson announced plans for the e-court pilots on Friday, while postponing committal hearings across the state for at least the next seven weeks.
All new jury trials in the Supreme Court and County Court, as well as the empanelling of jurors, have already been suspended until further notice in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“In both the criminal and civil courts, we are rapidly moving to a position where appearances will be managed through the electronic and digital environment,” Ferguson said.
“Not all courts have the technical capability yet, but considerable work is underway to build that as soon as possible.”
Ferguson said the pilots would kick off “immediately” in Victorian courts and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to ensure judges, lawyers and defendants can link-up remotely.
The technology would then be “scaled up to meet the changing needs of the sector”, though she acknowledged that this was still some time away.
“We are not there yet. Nor do we have all the answers,” she said.
“The situation is fluid and moving fast and while we cannot predict what may happen with COVID-19 in the immediate future we will continue to move to a more agile and flexible environment.
The Supreme Court has been contacted for additional information about the trials, including which video conferencing software will be tested.
As at Friday, Victoria had the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia after NSW (307) with 121.