Respondents noted that clear and precise provisions indicating which cases and circumstances online proceedings can be initiated are needed.
“Neither the Supreme Court or the Judicial Council came up with a statement on how to organize remote hearings.”
“… in our country we have some legal provisions that allow us to perform remote hearings, but we also we have received Guidelines from the Judicial Council regarding the performance of online trials.”
“We don't have any regulations in this area! We don't have equipment! There is not enough technical support!”
Where there are no legal provisions, it may be possible to hold remote hearings on the basis of emergency legislation or guidelines from higher judicial authorities.
In other instances, the judges were strictly forbidden to organize remote trials.
“No one knows what parties’ rights are in some situations, for example, if it is necessary to participate in such remote hearings or not? I have no precise guidelines on how to conduct these hearings. What to do when suddenly we lose connection? Is it according to the law to force witnesses to give their statements?”
“…it is dependent on a judge's (and his/her administrators’) own devices and the good will of the participants, but this leads to lack of uniformity in proceedings.”
“There are some legal provisions in my country allowing for remote hearings. Due to the pandemic, we have expanded remote hearings, even in the absence of specific regulations. Hence the latter has not imposed a barrier.”
“Our judicial council … encourages [us] to use our creativity and decide every situation individually.”
“My personal laptop contains a program, which can connect me from home to my work place computer using the internet. I can access electronic materials for cases, but not every document is available in electronic form. I also need a printer at home, which I cannot afford.”
“[I use a] Notebook, a laptop and pen drive to save the files and then I copy them to to the computer office system at the court and print.”
“[I use a] Computer and encrypted internet connection to access our information systems.”
“We have only one scanner for the entire Court.”
“Computers, cameras and microphones are in all courtrooms, for other equipment we need to put in a request.”
“Only one television set for the whole court building and about three cameras. We have twenty court rooms.”
In some cases, there is full electronic communication and access to documents by the parties, and in other cases, it is only partial.
Several responses stated that communication is one-way, allowing submissions only by the court to the parties.
In some cases, the electronic system does not permit documents to be attached.
In very few cases, the judge allows for e-mail communication and submission of documents.
“The following may be completed by electronic means: written pre-trial and criminal proceedings, written administrative proceedings and electronic civil cases.”
“A party cannot attach anything to the electronic program themselves in criminal cases, but they can send documents by email to the court or to court staff and they can attach it to the program.”
“Still nothing of the above in place, but legislative changes are being drafted.”
“The internet provider does not provide a stable internet connection for the whole city, not only for the Court.”
“Sometimes the Internet connection falls …when the air conditioning power is turned on.”
“In Armenia there is internet only in the offices of Judges and Judges’ staff. We still do not have internet connection in the court rooms, where we hold hearings.”
“The difficulties are mainly when the electronic system, for some reason freezes or takes too long to open documents.”
“What we need are legal regulations and proper software.”
“More courtrooms supplied with proper equipment for remote hearings as a computer and a camera are sometimes not enough.”
“The equipment we have is old and worn out. We need much better internet connection. We need better backup and security support.”
“The biggest challenge is a lack of technical skills and knowledge of the program by parties and witnesses.”
“The connection on some hearings is terrible. Education on remote hearings for judges, attorneys and others is necessary.”
“Lack of staff to help set up the equipment.”
- Asking permission for an audio-video recording;
- Participating from the court room;
- With a Public Relations court personnel observing the case and then informing the media;
- Sending a link to a person who wishes to see the hearing, although one concern was voiced that this might result in too many respondentswhich could cause technical problems;
- Via a private court channel that has been created on YouTube.
“The proceedings are not live-streamed. There is a possibility but we don’t use it often.”
“No [the proceedings are not streamed] but NGOs, monitors, journalists can ask for permission to receive an audio-video recording.”
- A private chat function or virtual rooms;
- The judge and other respondents disconnecting from the meeting and then re-entering after a specified period of time;
- Requesting a short break and pausing the hearing during that time;
- The use of mobile phones or email.
“Only via a private chat option. If the accused asks for a private meeting with counsel, I ask everyone to leave the online hearing and I am disconnected too, leaving only the accused and his/her counsel. We re-enter the hearing again after some time and I ask the accused if the time given to consult was enough and then we continue the hearing.”
“There is no private communication between them.”
- Through an IT specialist when needed, available via phone during the hearing;
- The judge’s typist or assistant or the court administrator providing the assistance.
Finally, some noted that they had to deal with the issues themselves or with an administrator, which could lead,according to one respondent, to postponing the case if the technical issues could not be resolved.
“Nobody, I’m by myself.”
“We all are still learning, rather ourselves, but there was one training for those who wanted in the National School of Judiciary and Public Prosecution - online. I took part in some webinars organized by NGOs.”
“The court administrator does the technical connection, but if any problems arise, we have to postpone the case.”
Although IT specialists assisted judges, only one respondent said that they also trained them.
For those that had not received training, it was noted that warnings were given by the President of the court. One respondent stated that no training had been provided because there were insufficient financial resources to do so.
Where the witnesses gave testimony online, they were asked to provide a 360 degree view of the room at the start of the session.
One respondent said that there were no secure measures for such a hearing. However, for several of the respondents, witnesses had not been heard by video conference—either because the law did not permit this or because there had been no opportunity to do so.
- A bar code which replaced the signature in judgments;
- The court system enabling a judge to use an e-signature to sign judgments.
- Personal data stored separately from the material with a right of access only by court staff, or appearing on a separate file and not on the letter of claim — unless consent was provided by the author;
- Court staff signing a statement on the protection of personal data, or a specific data protection officer being present;
- The clerk or the judge ensuring personal data is protected;
- Access to the court files containing the personal data only being permitted to authorized persons;
- Access only being permitted to the parties if they affirm respect for confidentiality;
- Access only available via a secure system to those authorized to attend, with PINs and safe words;
- Ensuring that final verdicts are anonymized before being given to third parties or the public;
Some respondents noted that no such safeguards were in place or they were not sure whether this was the case.