Universiteit Leiden

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Citizens felt less heard in virtual court hearings during coronavirus crisis

Quite a lot went wrong during the virtual hearings that courts held during the coronavirus crisis. Researchers from three universities, including Leiden University, concluded that citizens did not always feel heard and that their legal position was compromised.

Utrecht University, Radboud University and Leiden University received a grant to conduct research into the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the judicial system and the position of litigants in criminal law, juvenile law and immigration law.

Like much of the rest of society, courts largely closed in March 2020. The research shows that, especially in the early stages of the pandemic, improvisation was necessary because the judiciary was not prepared for the lockdown. Mobile phones had to be bought in a hurry, for example, or equipment had to be arranged for virtual hearings.

There were quite a few technical problems. Connections were lost or people were difficult to understand. But even more important: litigants did not always feel that they had been heard properly after a digital hearing. They missed a sense of being present in a courtroom, or they found it difficult to follow the case. For example, it was not always clear to foreign nationals who on the screen was the judge because judges didn’t always wear a gown.

Researchers Miranda BooneMariëlle Bruning and Sigrid van Wingerden from Leiden University were involved in the research. They had received a grant from the Covid-19 programme of ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for research into health care and innovation.

Read the full article (in Dutch) in newspaper Trouw.

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