Justice Sifris presided over the first Court-run e-Trial in the Commercial Court.
The Supreme Court of Victoria is no stranger to directing or encouraging parties to engage external providers to run e-Trials. This particular trial differed however, in that it was supported by the Digital Litigation Team, using the upgraded technology of the Supreme Court’s new e-Courts, and reliant on the internally-developed electronic court book and judgment support database.
Justice Sifris presided over this trial, the first electronic Commercial Court trial run in an e-Court, throughout August. His Honour was supported by the newly established Digital Litigation Team in a pilot program trialling internally run e-Trials. Practitioners had a positive response and thought the process and technology worked well.
Digital Litigation from the Court’s viewpoint
The Commercial Court trial was run by utilising an electronic court book that was projected in the courtroom for the witnesses, practitioners, judge and public gallery by the Court’s e-Litigation Coordinator.
In addition, his Honour and associates made use of the court book database that was specifically developed with reporting features designed to streamline management of the trial and judgment writing at the trial's conclusion.
His Honour’s chambers remarked that the court book database was accessible, straightforward to use and propelled the efficiency of the litigation. They noted that it enabled his Honour to flag ‘critical’ documents, access those documents instantly, and work remotely without the need to have hard-copy versions of those documents on-hand. Further, there were less disruptions in the receiving of evidence as witnesses were rarely required to physically handle documents.
Digital Litigation from the practitioners’ viewpoint
Practitioners quickly became receptive to these innovations. In regard to the electronic court book, counsel for the defendants said; “It's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I'm absolutely sold on it, because the benefit - and I'm sure my learned friend's in the same boat - is that you take the court book home. This has a significant court book, and we've got it on a USB so we can access and use it anywhere. And when we come to court, all we have is one laptop or a USB and two folders with our notes. That's it.”
Counsel for the plaintiffs and the defendants each noted that the electronic court book saved time in court and made accessing documents easier for the witness. It is anticipated that the e-Trial pilot format will save time during trials by significantly reducing the need for witnesses to handle hard-copy documents referred to by counsel. By not being required to physically handle documents, the Court hopes that the process of giving evidence is made less stressful for witnesses.
The solicitor for the plaintiff commented that the electronic court book saved his client “significant costs and time” and noted his firm’s desired inclination for repeated use in the future.
The newly established Digital Litigation Team is supporting the transition from paper-based litigation to e-Litigation for the judiciary, practitioners and other court users. The team fits within Registry Services and is currently forming policy, process and procedure for digital litigation at the Court.