By: Abigael Diaz
As technology advances and evolves, so should our legal system. The legal system can use technology to increase efficiency and accessibility to justice, while also decreasing costs for courts. Allowing modern technology such as virtual reality into the courtroom will likely have a strong influence on participation by increasing the number of people who can take part in the judicial system as well.
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulated experience that takes over users’ visual and auditory perceptions and allows them to enter a completely new virtual environment. There are various types of virtual reality, including but not limited to first-person immersion, augmented reality, and desktop view. In a first-person immersion setting, the user is completely engaged in the virtual environment, with as many senses as possible co-opted to maximize the experience. In augmented reality, which is frequently used in medical practice and aviation training, there is a virtual overlay of the environment the user is in; computer-generated visuals superimposed on a human body or plane controls can allow for better reinforcement of skills and more consistent results. Desktop view is a first-person virtual experience accessed through a desktop computer using a standard keyboard and mouse to navigate the experience.
First-person immersion virtual reality can be used with a headset or head-mounted display that covers a user’s eyes, but some headsets also cover ears or have gloves to increase the sensory experience. Virtual reality often engages sight, hearing, and touch, but some systems have even experimented with virtual smell applications. The headset is frequently tethered to a computer using USB or HDMI chords to increase the system’s capabilities. Using tethered headsets will be imperative in the legal field in the next couple of years because currently, cordless headsets make sacrifices in the quality and accuracy of information delivered through the syste,. Nevertheless, even cordless headsets will eventually have a satisfactory quality with advancing technologies.
Covid-19 has required courts to adapt to the pandemic and use new technologies to facilitate litigation, many courts opting for two-way live video options like Zoom. Simple video chat programs are a satisfactory solution for the pandemic but using virtual reality would enhance the experience. Virtual reality differs from two-way live video because it attempts to mimic life-like experiences within a 3D virtual space while applications like zoom create 2D face grids for users to view. The judicial system can use virtual reality to simulate a 3D social interaction that gives users a virtual experience similar to what the experience would be like in person.
Virtual reality offers an alternative way to interact with the justice system as a party, judge, jury, or bystander. Virtual reality can increase accessibility to the justice system for all, which will result in a more diverse law system. The employment of virtual reality in the legal system will likely result in many benefits, and most importantly, it will radically change how individuals participate in litigation.
Benefits from Virtual Reality in the Legal System
Increasing accessibility to the various stages of litigation will result in a more diverse courtroom experience. The American Bar Association believes a diverse legal profession will result in a more productive, just, and intelligent system on both a cognitive and cultural level. Diversity in the law is a good thing, as supported by legal psychologist Samuel Sommers’ experiment from 2006 that used over 200 mock jury participants and demonstrated that racially diverse juries deliberate longer, discuss facts from the case more, make fewer factual errors, and are more open talking about race’s role in the case. Having a diverse judicial system is necessary to ensure that the system is truly working for all people.
Virtual reality can increase efficiency and, in turn, lower costs throughout the legal system. With virtual reality, travel costs can be saved by allowing people to meet remotely rather than in person. For example, legal teams could save money bringing by mailing witnesses virtual reality headsets and courts could save travel expenses by providing them to jurors when theyare required to travel to crime scenes. Saving the courts time and money will result in the ability to accept more cases at each level of the court’s system and increase the number of people able to render justice for themselves. Lower legal fees can increase the number of people who can afford lawyers and increase access to the judicial system as well. Currently, not everyone in the United States has access to an attorney or legal services, so lowering legal fees would diversify the client pool to include those experiencing poverty who frequently from either Black, Indigenous, or other communities of color.
Increasing efficiency is a potential opportunity for the court systems to catch up on cases too. There is currently a large case backlog, primarily in sexual assault and immigration cases, and the effects of Covid-19 have further exacerbated this problem. Some are describing the pandemic as a “double disaster.” In addition to the disease, there is also an increase in gender-based violence, impaired reproductive and sexual health, a loss of jobs and livelihoods, and increased forced marriages, migration, and human trafficking. Covid-19 is slowing down the efficiency of the courts and increasing the frequency of litigation as a factor of new arising cases. Those harmed most by the case backlog are disproportionally from marginalized communities, including immigrants, people of color, women, and nonbinary and trans individuals.
Virtual reality can do more than increase the racial and class diversity in the courts and diversify the ability of people involved, as more disabled people could participate in a virtual reality system that accommodates their needs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in four adults in the United States is living with a disability. Virtual reality can accommodate people’s individual needs to increase participation.
Virtual reality has even been known to help improve senses for some, and many people with low vision report that virtual reality technology actually improves their ability to see. Alex Lee lost his sight to a rare disease, but he was able to see again using virtual reality technology after five years. Lee went from seeing everything as an indecipherable blur to being able to see and play in a 1940’s virtual world. Lee’s sight improvement is made possible because of the high color contrast that virtual reality implements as well as intense magnification of objects that occurs from placing virtual reality screens so close to the eyes.
Automatic and instant language translation for all court members is possible with virtual reality in addition to the benefits already discussed. Automatic interpretation for the variety of languages spoken in American courtrooms can remove language barriers that previously prevented individuals from accessing the legal system and might save courts significant money by reducing the need to pay for in person interpretation experts. It would also allow for more access to the courts. Another benefit to the adoption of such technology includes automatic closed captioning that might allow persons hard of hearing or the deaf to participate to a greater degree. It might also be helpful, or even imperative, for the neurodivergent community such that it could encourage people to remain focused and process their surroundings more effectively.
Virtual reality generally increases the understanding of those using it. Users can have words defined for them instantly, leading to a better-informed population that can participate in a legal system that better caters to the individual’s understanding and information needs. Furthermore, automatic definitions could be useful for defining unfamiliar legal terms to non-lawyers who find themselves in an environment replete with “legalese” terminology. And moreover, virtual reality in certain contexts can allow individuals to more accurately recall important memories, which promotes increased accuracy in factfinding and prevents court reliance on fallible memories. For example, it would likely be possible for a jury member to rewatch a portion of a witness’s testimony before deliberating. As such, virtual reality can promote justice by increasing the quantity and quality of informed participants in the judicial system.
Virtual reality has the ability to increase access to justice, lower costs, and improve participants’ understanding of all aspects of the judicial system. An overall increase in accessibility to the judicial system from many demographics that usually cannot access legal services or lawyers will be the likely result, and as such virtual reality may contribute to the diversification of the pool of people who can use the law, participate in it, and benefit from it.
In the coming years, virtual reality will very likely change the legal system for the better. The law should use virtual reality technology to increase efficiency and accessibility while decreasing costs. Allowing modern technology such as virtual reality into the courtroom will diversify the law and litigation process, making revolutionary changes in the litigation experience at all stages.