Guidelines for the Conduct of Court Proceedings Between Courts and Remote Sites
Video conference facilities have now been installed in:
- Magistrates Courts in Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie;
- Supreme Courts in Hobart, Launceston, and Burnie;
- Risdon Prison;
- Launceston Prison;
- Hobart Remand Centre;
- Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Deloraine.
Video-conferencing facilities provide Tasmanian Courts with the capacity to receive evidence and submissions from witnesses or persons involved in court proceedings in circumstances where it would be expensive, inconvenient or otherwise not desirable for a person to attend a Court in person. An over-riding factor is that the use of video-conferencing in any particular case must be consistent with furthering the interests of justice.
Video conferencing facilities can be used in matters including remands, applications, pleas, bail applications, contest mentions, restraint order proceedings, civil directions hearings, arraignments, and in civil and criminal trials:
- where the defendant/accused is in custody;
- where persons in custody are required to appear before a Court as a witness;
- sentencing of persons who are in custody;
- where a witness is located intrastate, interstate, or overseas;
- video conferencing facilities can also be used to take evidence from witnesses located;
- interstate and in New Zealand pursuant to the Evidence (Audio & Audio Visual Links) Act 1999;
- intrastate pursuant to the Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Act 1995.
In these guidelines reference to the ‘Court point’ means the Courtroom or other place where the Court is sitting and the ‘remote point’ is the place where the person appearing via the video link is located, for example, a prison.
Wherever possible proceedings by way of video link are conducted as a normal Court proceeding and persons largely observe the same courtesies and protocols. No adverse implications are drawn from a person’s appearance by way of a video link nor does evidence given via video link have any greater or lesser weight because it is made via video link.
The party responsible for the cost of each video link transmission is set out in the Video Link Charging Policy.
Accused persons in custody may appear in any proceedings either by consent, or at the direction of the Court. However, all remands of persons in custody will be conducted by video link unless otherwise ordered by the Court.
The Prison, Remand Centre, or Youth Detention Centre will liaise with the Court Video Link Co-ordinator prior to the scheduled video link concerning the persons in custody who are to appear, including their order of appearance.
In matters where no order was made at the previous appearance for proceedings by video link on the return date, the Prison or Detention Centre will ensure that all parties (including Defence Counsel, Prosecution, Community Corrections Officers, Youth Justice officers, etc) consent to proceedings being conducted by video link, and advise the Court Video Link Co-ordinator accordingly before booking the video link.
Appearance of other persons by video link
A Court can direct, on application or on the Court’s own initiative, that any person may appear before or give evidence or make a submission to a Court via video link in any proceedings.
Detailed procedures for the booking and conduct of video link proceedings have been established which require all applicants to lodge in advance a Booking Form with the Video link Co-ordinator at the relevant Court registry.
The following items are set out separately in these guidelines:
- booking procedures;
- contact details;
Pre-video conference arrangements
Prior to the time for the scheduled video conference the Prison, Remand Centre, or Youth Detention Centre will ensure that the inmate is seated and ready in the room set aside for the video conference, (normally at least 5 minutes prior to the scheduled time for the video conference).
The nominated remote point co-ordinator is responsible for ensuring the video conference unit is operational and switched on prior to the scheduled time for the video conference.
Where, for any reason, a third party (i.e. prison officer, technical assistant, interpreter at a remote point) is present in the room from where the video conference is being transmitted then that person should, at the start of the proceedings, be introduced (by prosecutor or counsel as appropriate) and their purpose for being present explained to the Court. No person, other than those already introduced to the Court, should enter the video conference room whilst a video conference hearing is in progress.
If a person, other than the inmate/witness, needs for any reason pertinent to the conduct of proceedings to interject (i.e. to report a technical problem affecting the conduct of the case, to report that some attempt has been made to interrupt, intervene or intimidate the witness, or to report any untoward behaviour on the part of any person in the room) the person should excuse him/herself and interject only at an appropriate moment. Third persons must not coach, interrupt, intervene or intimidate the witness. Exhibits should be handed to the witness without comment.
Commencement of proceedings
At the commencement of a video conference the judicial officer/court clerk/video co-ordinator will check that the link has been established. The presiding judicial officer should confirm that the witness/person at the remote point can be seen and heard clearly and similarly that the witness at the remote point can clearly see and hear the judicial officer.
Where the video link has been established it will not be necessary for the person at the remote site to bow or stand during proceedings including whilst taking the oath or affirmation.
Administering the oath
Any oath or affirmation is to be administered from the Court point by a Court Clerk, or Judge’s Associate or Attendant.
Connecting and disconnecting video links
Unless specific circumstances exist, the Court will be responsible for calling remote sites and similarly will be responsible for disconnecting calls at the conclusion of proceedings (ie the Court will hang up). The Court will be responsible for ending the call and will indicate to the remote end that the call will be disconnected.
Where for any reason a video link to an accused person in Prison is interrupted during the proceedings (for technical reasons) proceedings will be suspended and will not continue in the absence of the accused.
Facilities will be provided at both the Court point and the remote point to enable private communications to take place between an accused person and their legal practitioner, and for documents to be transmitted between both sites by those persons. This includes during the hearing, during adjournments, or shortly before or after the hearing.
Where persons appearing by way of video link require confidential discussions with their legal counsel a telephone line and fax have been provided for this purpose.
Copies of documents can be transmitted between the Court point, the remote point, and vice versa via facsimile as directed by the Court.
Document-imaging cameras are available in some of the Courts’ video-conferencing facilities which enable close-up views of documents in a forensic setting.
There are special security issues that need to be considered where an inmate is appearing before a Court by way of video conference so as to ensure the inmate is able to give evidence without interference.
Courts will at all times have the ability to control the camera view at prison video conference sites. The Judge can have a view of the entire room and of all persons present at any time during the hearing. The Judge will also have a head and shoulders view of the witness at the remote point.
Even if the video and audio unit is not activated at the remote point , inmates and witnesses should assume that they will be visible and audible to the Court at all times while in the video conferencing room.
All persons appearing via video link will have a view of the person speaking at the time whether that be Judge, counsel etc. Even where, for any reason, the Court point is not visible on the video screen at the remote point (but equipment is operational) persons should assume always that they are visible to the Courtroom.
It is not necessary to look at the camera when speaking via video link. The cameras are positioned such that looking at the image on the screen will transmit as looking at the person being addressed at the far end.
Microphones used in video link hearings are highly sensitive. Persons appearing before a Court by way of a video link should assume from the time the video link is activated until the time the link is disconnected that microphones are “live” and as such all remarks are audible to the Court. The exception here is where, for any reason, the Court or the remote site “mute” their microphones.
Persons should avoid coughing, whispering, shuffling papers, or tapping objects near the microphone to ensure the clarity of the transmission.
Where for any reason it is necessary to mute the microphone at the remote site (if counsel need to speak confidentially with client) the Court must be advised before the microphones are switched to mute. Where the microphone at the remote site is “muted” (ie no conversation is audible to the Court from the remote site) the Court will at all times be aware of that.
In the unlikely event of a systems failure, the Court has trained staff at each Court site to diagnose and rectify faults.