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Computers May Usurp Oral Testimony, U.K. Chief Justice Warns


Given that he occupies a judicial position that traces its history to the Middle Ages, the comments this week by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales were particularly striking for the deviation from tradition they predict. In his first press conference since taking office last year, Lord Judge said that, within 15 years, oral testimony in courts may have to be replaced by evidence presented entirely by computer.

A generation brought up with computers will no longer have the attention span to sit as jurors and listen to oral testimony for hours on end, Lord Judge believes, according to a report in The Times Online. "I am very strongly in favor of the jury system. But I look at my grandchildren: they don’t learn by listening to people talking at them. They have teachers who guide them," he said.

The jury system, he noted, depends on jurors coming to court and sitting down all day, "listening to people speaking, listening and thinking about what they are hearing and assimilating it and then assessing it." Technology changes jurors' ability to process information in that way, he observed.

"If a generation is going to arrive in the jury box that is totally unused to sitting and listening but is using technology to gain the information it needs to form a judgment, that changes the whole orality tradition with which we are familiar."

He raised the issue not to sound an immediate alarm but to encourage study of it before there is need for an alarm. "I would like this issue to be thought about very deeply. 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." He suggested that evidence might be presented to jurors on screens that they could take with them and manipulate to obtain the information they would want.

Commenting in The Times on the Lord Chief Justice's warning, John Cooper, a criminal barrister and member of the Bar Council, said there is no doubt that the public's ability to listen to lengthy oratory has declined. While lawyers must learn to use multimedia tools in making their cases, these tools should not usurp advocacy, he said. "These should never replace the advocate's address or his or her responsibility to present the case in such a way that it will be understood and appreciated."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 23, 2009 at 03:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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