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New Report: Virtual Civil Trials

While working from home together with other Law Library staff our foreign law specialists and analysts have been busy researching many legal issues related to COVID-19, including Continuity of Legislative Activities during Emergency Situations (March 2020) on measures taken in various countries for continuing legislative activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, we also published a new report on Virtual Civil Trials. The report includes 25 foreign jurisdictions and details the rules regarding remote and virtual hearings, including changes made in response to COVID-19. The report only covers civil trials.

Source & Note: Map reflects results of 25-country survey on Virtual Civil Trials in Selected Countries (Susan Taylor, Law Library of Congress, 2020).

Many countries are dealing with the issue of providing access to local courts while various restrictions on movement and gatherings are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Governments and courts have needed to weigh their legal obligations (including constitutional requirements as well as obligations under international law) to guarantee the right to a fair trial, including a timely trial, with protecting residents from being infected with the virus. As a result, a majority of the jurisdictions surveyed have adopted policies and procedures to enable remote access to the courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several of the jurisdictions surveyed already allowed for remote proceedings, for example for the taking of evidence (Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain), or if a party otherwise would not be able to participate in the trial (Azerbaijan, Norway). Other countries, such as Finland and Singapore, announced that during COVID-19 civil trials will only be heard in person if absolutely necessary. France, where use of videoconferencing appears relatively uncommon, has also called for more use of video technology during COVID-19. As illustrated in the report, the modes of public access to hearings have varied, from live broadcast over Youtube (England, which streamed its first hearing in March 2020) to written transcripts, or audio records (New Zealand).

As COVID-19 lingers, responses by courts continue. Since the report has been published, the Supreme Court of Norway has held its first remote hearing, and other countries such as New Zealand have issued special protocols specifically for remote hearings, and Singapore has extended its current rules permitting courts to only hear urgent matters and urging them to use remote hearings only until June 2020. Whether the pandemic will change how courts operate long-term remains to be seen.

For continued coverage of legal developments in foreign jurisdictions in response to COVID-19, visit our online resources that are continuously updated:

Stay healthy and safe!

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