More Australian witnesses should testify by Skype: Notre Dame research

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, The Honourable Wayne Martin AC QC, with Justine Howard at the 'Justice Without Barriers' Conference in Brisbane.

27 May 2015

More Australian judicial officers should permit witnesses to testify by Skype when integrated services digital network (ISDN) videoconferencing is unavailable, according to Justine Howard, Lecturer at The University of Notre Dame Australia's School of Law, Fremantle.

Ms Howard stated that some courts in Australia and overseas have permitted witnesses to testify by Skype, such as the New South Wales District Court. However, such Skype use in Australian courts does not appear to be widespread. Australian courts primarily use ISDN videoconferencing when witnesses testify from outside the courtroom.

Ms Howard noted that judicial officers should be aware of the challenges that can occur when witnesses use Skype to testify, involving security and witness credibility. As a result, she stated that witnesses should only testify by Skype when ISDN videoconferencing is unavailable. Ms Howard worked on this research with Dr Marilyn Krawitz, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, Fremantle.

Skype, a software application that allows people to use their computers to contact others across the world, was created in 2003 and is used by millions of people each day.

"Skype is free to use and it can save parties and the courts considerable money because using ISDN videoconferencing can be expensive," Ms Howard said.

"Since one requires less equipment to run Skype than ISDN videoconferencing, more witnesses can easily access Skype than ISDN videoconferencing. This can be particularly helpful for witnesses who are overseas or are ill and unable to travel to court. Since Australian courts are under-resourced, it is important to think carefully about ways they can save money but still ensure that a fair trial occurs and integrity in the administration of justice is maintained."

Ms Howard presented research in this area at the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration Incorporated's Conference 'Justice Without Barriers, Technology for Greater Access to Justice' in Brisbane, Australia, on Friday 22 May 2015.

Other speakers at the Conference included The Honourable Justice Michelle May from the Family Court of Australia and President of the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration Incorporated; The Honourable Justice Clyde Croft of the Supreme Court of Victoria; and Professor Nicolas Vermeys, Manager of the Cyberjustice Lab at the Université de Montréal.

Professor Doug Hodgson, Dean of the School of Law, Fremantle, commended Ms Howard and Dr Krawitz on their research.

"Their research in the area of witnesses testifying by Skype is important and practical. The School of Law is delighted that Ms Howard presented this significant research at a conference that brought together judicial officers and scholars from around Australia to discuss how technology is impacting the courts," Professor Hodgson said.

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Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;