The courts of justice are again being used as a proving ground for today’s Internet-driven technology. This time it is the use of Skype in a child-protection case occurring in the USA concerning immigrant parents who were deported back to Mexico. Here, the US-based court had used Skype as a tool for taking the Mexico-based parents’ testimony due to cost and logistical reasons. Video-conferencing has been used in the courtroom for a lot of cases such as high-profile crime trials where it is desireable to keep a high-risk defendant or “supergrass” confined at a secure jail through the hearing. These setups typically use a direct link between known locations like a courthouse and a major prison, or an expensive-to-hire videoconferencing setup for temporary arrangements.
Of course, the Skype-based solution had facilitated the use of cost-effective equipment that didn’t need intense technical help to set up. This has allowed the parents to prove to the court that they were fit and appropriate parents for the children concerned even though they were limited in funds and based in Mexico.
This case could benefit other civil, family and similar cases in most jurisdictions where a key participant or witness is separated from the main court of hearing by significant distance or ill-health. Typically most of these situations would require an expensive video-conferencing setup which may not be feasible in most rural areas and the setups would require a lot of specialist time to set up and run. Or they would require the lawyers representing both sides of the case to travel out to the witness’s location and make a video recording of their testimony which doesn’t have the immediacy and constant judicial oversight of the live testimony.
Here, a Skype setup on an ordinary 15” or 17” laptop, like most of the laptops reviewed on HomeNetworking01.info, connected via a broadband link can be established by most computer-competent people. These same setups could be transported in the typical briefcase, laptop bag or backpack as cabin luggage on a flight or in the boot (trunk) of a typical car.
One step of progress I would like to see for Skype in the courtroom as a remote-testimony tool is for a similar situation to work with a criminal trial, especially one heard by a judge and jury. In this situation, there would be a requirement to test the case beyond reasonable doubt and these cases may be more exacting than the civil case mentioned above.