During the recent stage 4 COVID lock down in Melbourne, I had the opportunity to do my first trial over Zoom assisting a defendant /applicant in counter claim to give evidence in a commercial case in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
The judge’s associate did a connection test with every one two days before the commencement of the hearing, and sent through the link the day before my client was due to give evidence. I clicked on the link and was allowed into the meeting. I could see the associate, the two barristers for each side, the solicitors, the parties to the proceeding and the Auscript writer. The solicitors and the parties who were not giving evidence did not turn on their video connection, as they were not directly involved in the cross examination. When everyone was ready, the judge came on, and the associate turned off her video connection.
The court book has over 8000 pages and I have received the PDF before hand. I reduced the size of my Zoom window to half screen, so I can use the other half of my screen to see the PDF. As the other side’s barrister started to take my witness through to different pages of the court book before asking questions, I followed him closely. After the first 30 minutes, I came to the conclusion that my witness was quite capable of giving evidence independently, I started to sit back, mute myself and just became an observer of the proceeding.
The barrister for the other side asked questions sitting down in front of his desk looking at the camera. He was relaxed and happy to repeat his questions when my witness could not hear it the first time. From time to time, the email notifications coming from his computer beeped and he looked side-way briefly before turning back to the camera again.
On the other hand, our barrister was at a level lower than the camera and therefore I could not even see him when he was sitting down taking notes. All I could see was the high rise office buildings outside his window. I was not even sure whether that was real or just a digital background. Whenever he rose up to voice his objection, he would stand up and show himself.
The judge sat close to the camera showing the shinny crown of his head. When I saw part of his shoulder disappearing from time to time, I realized his background of a white wall with the emblem of the court is probably a virtual background. The judge forgot to unmute himself on a couple of occasions before he spoke, and the counsels kindly reminded him.
All in all, my first Zoom trial has been a very relaxing experience. I am glad everyone seemed to be polite and patient in this new mode of operation. I was able to choose to mute myself or turn off my video. This allows everyone to the opportunity to choose the degrees of participation they wish or required, a potentially more efficient use of one’s time without the peer pressure from an onsite hearing.
It is a more detached and less intense experience, taking the nerves away so that we can focus on the issues instead. To my lawyer partner, who is a pessimist by the nature of his occupation, has started to worry that people going through the justice system may find this mode of court attendance less stressful and therefore may have learnt the lesson they otherwise would.