Justice in times of coronavirus: a virtual audience was held with the public and more people participated than in court

People were entering the room. Then the judge, the prosecutor, and the defendant, who sat in their seats, did so. “Good Morning. We are starting the hearing, “said the magistrate. The description is that of any everyday court hearing. Only this time it was virtual and the public participated from their homes. It is Justice in times of coronavirus.

The initiative came from the Contravencional Criminal Court and Misdemeanors 10 of the city of Buenos Aires that made the virtual hearing last Friday to deal with the claim of a company. During the 40 minutes that it lasted, there were ten stable people who at one time numbered 14. It is a number of people that are rarely present in person in court. As an example, in one of the last hearings in the oral trial of the vice president Cristina Kirchner For the case of public works – one of the most publicized in recent years – there was no one in the public sector.

Since March 20, when the national government ordered compulsory social isolation to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Justice joined the measure. In the courts there is a minimal and indispensable presence of employees and only for the courts that are on duty. Attention to the public was prohibited and it was provided that only urgent cases, such as everything involving detainees, be dealt with.

Since then, most judges have worked from home. They use the digital signature to solve the causes, they make video conferences and they have even taken inquiries through WhatsApp. In the case of the Council of the Magistracy of the Nation or that of the city of Buenos Aires they use the Zoom platform for multiple conferences. A new way of working in a time when the coronavirus changed everything.

Court 10 is in charge of the judge Pablo Casas for whom technology is a central element in their work. Since May 2016, the court has a Twitter account, @ jpcyf10, in which it publishes the resolutions and the hearings it conducts.

From there, on Friday he posted a tweet inviting people to participate in a public hearing. The difference with others that are also done in a virtual way is that in this public could participate. It was to deal with the request of a company to revoke the 70 thousand peso fine that the city government applied to it for not covering the potholes it left in a work it did on the Metrobus. “TODAY #Stay in your house and enters the Virtual Courtroom at 1:00 pm ”, said the message accompanied by others explaining how to participate.

“The initiative arose because as a Judicial Branch we are part of the essential services of the country in this moment of emergency. We feel that we can contribute by solving things in the best way and without putting anyone at risk, ”the judge explained to Infobae. “Although the topic was not urgent, we are also not prohibited from discussing it. And we said to ourselves, why delay it if we can do it? We saw this possibility and we did it ”he added.

Not only did the public follow the hearing from their homes, but also the judge, the prosecutor Federico Villalba Diaz and the president of the company fined it they did it from their homes. The hearing was made with the endorsement of all parties.

Most of the public were law students and judicial employees but also, for example, there was a man who is an engineer and heard about the hearing. The virtual helps the presence of people. They can do it from their homes and these days there are many people in their homes. That is an important difference with face-to-face hearings – which are public – that require going to court and are held during work or study hours, which limits participation.

“At the beginning of the hearing I asked people how they had found out and those who answered said it was on social networks. And we interacted because they asked us questions and suggestions. For example, they told us that we could put a welcome sign and music so that people know that they were connected while they were waiting, ”said the magistrate.

“Thanks to those who are there, if you can mute the microphone for now, it is appreciated”, said one of the messages in the audience chat before the start.

The president of the company presented his arguments, then the prosecutor did it and finally the judge ruled. Casas confirmed the fine and, at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office, postponed the payment of the fine until the end of the emergency situation to help the company at this economic time and that it does not have financial complications.

Although the hearings have some restrictions, this was open-ended. “It was so knowing that the impact was going to be less and that due to the topic we were dealing with, we were not exposed to any risk. But if any inconvenience arises, we have the tools to identify the user and eventually report him. ”Casas explained.

In this sense, he said that in a virtual audience he has the same powers as in a face-to-face. You can catch someone in the audience and even kick him out of the room.

At the end of the hearing, Casas and Villalba Díaz answered questions from the public. “They asked us what the costs are (NdA: they are the expenses of the trial), about the repeal of an article that we named in the hearing, and how it can be proven if a photo was prior to the fact,” Casas said. The engineer asked them about the technical language they used.

“We are very happy to have been able to carry out an idea that has a lot of work behind it and to show that things can happen in the Judiciary”Casas explained. A different Justice in times of coronavirus and with the question of whether it is here to stay.