Virtual Courts: Crisis to Convenience
April 15, 2022 by
Virtual Courts: Transitioning From Crisis to Convenience
Providing equitable access to justice isn’t easy when appearing in court is difficult for people. Beyond the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding childcare, accessing reliable transportation, or even having the ability to take off work are hurdles people face when trying to interact with courts.
Tyler Tech Podcast host Jeff Harrell and his guests Jonathan Lang and Marlin Jones tackled this issue in a recent episode. Lang, a Tyler product manager responsible for the direction and development of Tyler’s services for municipal courts, and Jones, product owner for Tyler’s Municipal Justice application suite, dug deep into a conversation about the promise of the Virtual Court platform in times of crisis and beyond.
What does Virtual Court solve?
“Physical appearance is inconvenient at best,” noted Lang. This is true for court staff as well as the public. When the pandemic hit, staff were left cobbling together multiple ways to connect with defendants. “They were using a meeting platform, they were using a document platform, they were just emailing by hand to get people invited to and incorporated into the sessions, and it was just a lot of manual work,” said Lang.
Driving a remote resolution — talking about a case, checking in for court, sharing documents back and forth, handling the disposition, then paying the amount due in one sitting — was the goal of Virtual Court.
“In the past, we were rigidly stuck with in-person appearances,” noted Jones. “These packed the courtroom; they also created hardships for defendants.” Imagine for example, a defendant who lives hours away from a court but who needs to resolve a suspended license. The logistics of taking time off work and finding transportation are daunting. With a virtual court, the same defendant can simply step away while on break at their job. “We’ve seen people sitting in the break room attending Virtual Court,” added Jones. “For smaller courts where it’s not easy for people to get access, Virtual Court has brought that access.”
Jones noted similar benefits for college students who may be transient — picking up a traffic ticket in one town but being in another state for the hearing date — or whose parent in a different location may want to be involved in a meeting or hearing. Separate call rooms allow stakeholders to meet with prosecutors or defense attorneys separately, as opposed to immediately meeting with a judge.
A Full Community Win
For defendants, Virtual Court is a positive development. “In 10 or 15 minutes of your time, you’re done,” noted Jones. “You've been able to talk to the judge, talk to a prosecutor, and make a payment if you want to that same day. That makes a big difference.”
The time savings that accompany a virtual process significantly reduce failures to appear in court. “People are able to appear,” said Jones. “School teachers don’t have to get a substitute. They can just ask someone to watch the class while they’re on the playground…it’s changed the way constituents have access to justice. It meets them where they are in life.”
On the court side, virtual processes reduce foot traffic, giving staff more time in the day to focus on other work. Case backlogs, too, go down when staff have more time, and all parties can log in from the convenience of home.
Taking these wins into the future is a “shift from crisis back to convenience,” noted Lang. Convenience helps people show up for court, which helps everyone.