The legacy of the pandemic has seen significant change across all industries as everyone has adapted to the ‘new normal’. This is particularly the case in the legal profession. In a very real desire to continue supporting clients, legal teams have embraced new technology solutions at a greatly accelerated rate.
Our eHearings team has been leading the way with electronic hearings technology for some time. For example, we began conducting virtual matters prior to the pandemic, as the Hong Kong civil unrest in 2019 led to complications with an International Arbitration. The matter was subsequently moved to Singapore’s Maxwell Chambers. However, some critical matters required timely resolve before the in-person Singapore hearings commenced. These hearings were our first virtual hearings ever conducted approximately 3 months prior to the pandemic. Consequently, we were well equipped to support clients the moment COVID-19 drove increased demand for virtual hearings.
Due to the pandemic, the most necessary technological change was implementing more cloud-based solutions into our service.
Jury Book Solution
One of the lesser-known solutions that our eHearings team offers is the Jury Book Solution.
We had assisted the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (for all state jurisdictions) with various services for their trials. We determined a need to provide an electronic document bundle solution that ensured jurors could access documents in a secure way that was controlled by the judge or parties in a criminal matter.
Our Jury Book Solution uses encryption with multiple layers of security and provides the ability to control the release of documents at the time they are required. Essentially, it is a secure way to provide documents to jurors during trials that is adaptable to change and controlled in the release of the documents.
How It Works
This solution provides a highly secure, digital jury book to substitute the traditional, hard copy court book. It is not only a very safe and efficient way to facilitate document review for jurors, but it's also significantly more economical than printing bundles.
Our eHearings team has created several of these jury book solutions across eight trials in Victoria and New South Wales with great success due to the practicality and security of the solution. The solution provides benefits in terms of efficiency and time savings, as well as being eco-friendly.
In regard to security, which is arguably one of the most important parts of this solution, there are two types of encryption. There is both a folder level and a document level of encryption. How it is structured is really up to the legal teams and the judge. Even if someone is able to break into the devices, they are unable to access the encrypted files without the password.
Setting Up the Jury Book
All core participants in a matter are allocated a device. The court, the jury and legal teams will have devices that are clearly colour coded according to each group. Each device is labelled with a number to identify the allocated user.
There is also a master device controlled by the prosecution team which is used to guide and control all the documents that can be accessed on the other devices (essentially slave devices).
All the documents related to the matter are then uploaded to the devices. The documents are all encrypted at either a folder or document level and are inaccessible until released.
The decryption password is only communicated at the trial so all parties can enter the password as it’s communicated either via a screen or via the judge or associate reading it out. This means whoever is controlling the master device – the prosecutor or the judge – will grant access to the relevant document for everyone in the room. Any document on the device that is yet to be released will remain inaccessible until the time access is granted.
If the document set needs to be updated, our eHearings team goes to the courtroom every day and updates all the devices. For example, if the legal team decided they wanted to put six new documents into their bundle, we would have team members that would go into the trial and upload the documents onto all of the devices in the room. The update usually takes around half an hour to an hour depending on the size of the files. Once the devices are updated, they are ready for the start of that day’s hearing.
Entering the Password
Here you can see the document access interface of the platform.
As an example, consider the document bundle above was used for an online jury book, if the prosecutor read out the decryption code to access the transcripts of conversations. Everyone in the room would enter the code and press ‘decrypt’. Within that folder, there may be ten documents, but the prosecutor may only provide access to three. The other seven will remain encrypted until access is granted which may be two weeks later.
This really helps protect the security of quite sensitive information that the police are using and which needs to be kept confidential until the time it needs to be used in trial.
Time and Cost Savings
Not only is this a novel solution, but it can lead to some serious cost savings as this platform mitigates the need for the many hard copy bundles needed for a jury trial. Imagine having a tower of bundles in front of every juror; it's a very impractical way to operate.
For example, if a juror has to find document five in bundle six, they could be rummaging around for quite a while. With a tablet in front of them, it’s a touch of a button. This obviously provides a much more efficient workflow and saves significant time. In all the trials that our eHearings team has facilitated the jury book solution lately, it has been a great success.
With the return to the courtrooms over the coming year and rumours of a massive backlog of criminal trials built up over the pandemic, the jury book will be a really important solution for legal teams to embrace in an effort to conduct matters swiftly and securely.