Victorian Supreme Court to undergo technology overhaul

The next step in the court's digital strategy is to fit-out its physical courtrooms with the necessary equipment to facilitate electronic trials.

The Supreme Court of Victoria is slated to receive a makeover, publishing a request for information (RFI) that outlines the court's intention to utilise technology to deliver a more "efficient and accessible" justice system.

In 2015, the Supreme Court developed its Digital Strategy and Implementation Plan 2015-2020. Two of the goals are now ready for action, following the 2017-18 state Budget giving the Supreme Court AU$6.3 million in 2017-18 and AU$3.3 million in 2018-19 for an IT upgrade.

Goal six of the strategy is to fix the in-court experience by fitting-out all physical courtrooms with the necessary equipment to facilitate electronic trials; while another priority of the Supreme Court is to implement in-court technologies for electronic hearings and trials, which includes technologies to enable audio and video conferencing, recording, and evidence presentation.

The Supreme Court finalises between 7,000 and 8,000 matters each year, most which are civil matters in the Trial Division, which sits alongside the Court of Appeal.

Most Supreme Court cases are heard in Melbourne, but the court also travels on circuit to hear cases in locations across Victoria including Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Hamilton, Horsham, Latrobe Valley, Mildura, Sale, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool, and Wodonga.

In Melbourne CBD, the court is spread across seven venues with a number of courtrooms. The end goal is to make this disparate setup almost invisible through the use of technology.

To date, electronic courts within the court have typically been facilitated by specialist external vendors. In general, the RFI explains how external vendors provided an end-to-end solution including temporary in-courtroom technology such as display screens, document management software and storage, and in-court room operators.

The court is specifically seeking to upgrade its existing video-conferencing services, labelling the current setup as "ageing, unreliable, and of poor quality". It also highlighted that there is insufficient service capacity to meet growing and changing demand; and that its current in-court technology cannot support production of high-quality content suitable for viewing online.

The RFI explains that there is currently insufficient service capacity to meet growing and changing demand with infrastructure constraints, meaning that only 12 percent of courtrooms can use video-conferencing services simultaneously.

Among other things, the court is expecting productivity gains in reduced trial lengths, commenting that anecdotally, electronic trials have run up to 30 percent shorter than similar non-electronic trials.

The objective of the eCourt project is to upgrade audio-visual technology in all Supreme Court mediation and courtrooms to facilitate electronic trials.

The scope of the project also covers courtroom network infrastructure upgrades; content delivery and hosting services for video conferencing; and content delivery and hosting services for online streaming and/or on-demand web casting.

Specifically, the eCourt project will see the provision of display screens for judiciary, court staff, witnesses, accused, juries, barristers, solicitors, and the public gallery; audio equipment such as microphones, speakers, assistive listening systems, and associated technology; video equipment such as video cameras, DVD players, PCs, and associated technology; codec upgrades; and control panels and systems.

The RFI closes on Friday, January 26, 2018.

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