As technology advances, the internet has transcended our screens and entered a whole new realm: the metaverse. This digital universe is a vibrant space where users, embodied by their avatars, can connect and collaborate in real-time, create digital content, conduct business, and, according to the latest precedent, even attend court hearings.
In a recent groundbreaking move, on February 15 2023, the Magdalena administrative court, based in the northern Colombian city of Santa Marta, held a court session entirely within the metaverse. The case involved a plaintiff who brought a lawsuit against the Colombian Ministry of Defense and the National Police. The court magistrate, María Victoria Quiñones, agreed to the plaintiff's request to hold the public hearing in the digital realm and the defendant also accepted this unprecedented arrangement.
During the hearing, Quiñones emphasized the advantages of the metaverse, noting that it enables "real interaction" and allows for the use of immersive technology to improve the efficiency of procedural cases, all while upholding procedural guarantees and principles of digital justice. Speaking through her virtual avatar, the judge explained that although she was physically alone in her courtroom, her colleagues were joining from their offices, the counsel lawyer was working from home, and the other lawyers had connected from their own premises. The physical distance, however, was not at all disturbing by virtue of the metaverse, which “felt more real” to the participants of the hearing than a Zoom meeting. This is an academic experiment to show that it’s possible, and when everyone consents to it, my court can continue to do things in the metaverse, Quinones told reporters, calling the proceedings in virtual reality “simply amazing.”
One of the most significant advantages of utilizing the metaverse for court proceedings is the ability to circumvent physical confrontations and create a welcoming atmosphere for individuals who may be particularly vulnerable, such as child witnesses. This innovative approach to the judicial process not only prioritizes the comfort and well-being of those involved, but also presents a sophisticated solution to traditional courtroom settings that may sometimes prove intimidating or uncomfortable.
Regardless, this approach has not been immune to criticism and scrutiny. Some deem metaverse to be incompatible for court hearings for its clunky and cartoonish avatars. Others consider the practice “unnecessary” and “complicated.” Responding to this reproval, Francisco Bernante, the president of Colombia's criminal bar association, emphasized that metaverse hearings would not become the standard procedure. Instead, he argued that the technology could make justice "more friendly, efficient, and empathetic to the technology and citizens of the future."
As we look ahead, it's clear that the implementation of metaverse technology in the judicial sector may still be several years away due to current limitations. However, we cannot deny the fact that the metaverse is a dynamic and inventive space that will undoubtedly continue to evolve in the years to come. It's worth considering the possibilities and potential implications that such a technological shift may bring about, even if it's not yet within immediate reach.