12 Jun 13 Jun
10:00 - 12:30
A Criminal Law event

Symposium Virtual Criminal Trials

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a mass roll-out of the use of video links in criminal court rooms around the world. These criminal justice systems are now facing a fundamental question: how to properly integrate technological advances as a permanent feature of post pandemic criminal justice? Virtual justice is obviously attractive from the point of view of efficiency but the impact on procedural fairness and the integrity of the criminal justice system is multifaced and more ambiguous. The lack of physical proximity challenges communication and the use of language, ability to participate and understand, the experience of trial participants and how they perceive fairness, emotional affect and empathy, but also the accuracy of on decision making and evidence assessment. Understanding the use of video-links at criminal trials therefore calls for a multidisciplinary approach.

The symposium aims to present a forum for international, interdisciplinary and interprofessional participants. The aimed output of the symposium is to create the forum for setting up a future research agenda and create opportunities for international and interdisciplinary collaboration amongst multidsciplinary experts in thie field. At the end of the symposium an international network (the International Virtual Criminal Justice Network) will be launched to provide a permanent forum for exchanging views and experiences and for setting up international and interdisciplinary forms of collaboration.

The symposium will consist of three parts:

  1. Key note address: ‘What lessons can be learned from the COVID experience?’ (keynote speaker: prof. Jenia Iontcheva Turner, Professor of Law, SMU Law School, USA)
  2. Interdisciplinary panels: existing research and lacunae on virtual participation in criminal trials Each panel will have two to three presenters, one discussant and a plenary discussion. The task of the discussant is to identify relevant themes and questions for a future research agenda and collaboration.
  3. Launch of International Virtual Criminal Justice Network and setting up future action.


Day 1 (Monday 12th of June 2023)
10.00        Registration
10.30        Welcoming speech
11.00        Keynote address, prof. J. Iontcheva Turner ‘What lessons can be learned from                                 the COVID experience’
12:30        Lunch
14:00        Panel A: The dynamics of the trial: courtroom interactions in a virtual session

  • Carolyn Mc Kay, “Remote witnesses, complainants and defendants in criminal justice: blunting emotion and empathy?”
  • Lisa Flower, “Emotional interactions in face-to-face trials”
  • Emma Rowden, “Designing information for lay users attending online hearings: behind the scenes of two user-focused projects to improve procedural fairness”

15.45        Coffee break
16:00        Panel B: The outcome of the trial: judicial decisionmaking

  • Penelope Gibbs, “Judges’ perceptions of hybrid criminal courts in England and Wales during the covid pandemic”
  • Sara Landstrom, “Effects of different presentation modes – text, video, video-link and live – on credibility assessments”

19:00        Speakers dinner

Day 2 (Tuesday 13th of June 2023)
09.00        Welcome
09:15        Panel C: The fair trial context: systemic due process values

  • Marc Thommen, “Applying art. 6 ECHR to virtual trials”
  • Jackie Hodgson, “The wider out-of court trend in trials: new innovation and the risks to core fair trial rights”
  • Dorris de Vocht, “Rethinking fairness in a virtual context: the procedural justice perspective”

11.00        Coffee break
11.15        Panel D: The endless potential of technology in the courtroom: how to move                                  forward

  • Meredith Rossner,  “Immersive Virtual Technology and the Changing Rituals of Courtroom Justice”
  • Christina Peristeridou, “The questions that should (not) guide research in field of virtual criminal trials: the way forward”

12:00        Launch of International Virtual Criminal Justice Network and closing address
12.30        Lunch

Description of the interdisciplinary panels, speakers and discussants:

Panel A: The dynamics of the trial: courtroom interactions in a virtual setting 

  • Carolyn Mc Kay (Sydney University)
  • Lisa Flower (Lund University)
  • Meredith Rossner (Australian National University) (to be confirmed)
  • Discussant: Jenia Iontcheva Turner (Professor of Law, SMU Law School, USA)

Focus of the panel:
It is assumed that using technology affects (the quality of) in-person communication. At the basis of this assumption is the idea that face-to-face communication is generally the most complete form of communication. In this panel we will focus on whether and how this is true for courtroom interactions. How does the use of communication technology during trial affect professional practices and the experience of communication? We will consider this question from different angles. For example: how does the use of technology affect the possibility to realise effective communication? Does it affect the possibility to empathise or engage with a trial participant appearing on screen and to ‘read’ non verbal cues? Is the feeling of co-presence in virtual setting different from the real life setting?

Key words:
Communication, Feeling of copresence/alienation; empathy, sympathy; Sensory aspects: the importance of surrounding senses; Experiences: Humanity, Perception, Intimidation; Court rituals and ceremony: Court legitimacy and authority, Court authority, order and safety (managing the court).

PANEL B: The outcome of the trial: judicial decision-making

  • Emma Rowden (Oxford Brookes University)
  • Sara Landstrom (University of Gothenburg)
  • Discussant: Dorris de Vocht (Tilburg University)

Focus of the panel:
In this panel we will focus on how virtual communication may impact judicial evaluations and decisionmaking. For example: how does appearing on screen influence the way trial participants (particularly defendants) are perceived? Can non verbal cues and other relevant demeanor be fully and accurately transmitted through virtual justice? Can virtual communication impact how defendants are perceived? Can virtual communication influence assessment of credibility and/or impact the decisions that the judge has to make (likelihood of guilty verdict, harsher sentence, alternatives to pretrial detention etc)?

Key words:
Ability to asses: trustworthiness/believability, credibility/sincerity, remorse, Emotions: empathy, likeability, sympathy, Nonverbal cues (expressions, eye contact/gaze, posture, gestures), the effect of cameras/screens on judgments

PANEL C: The fair trial context: systemic due process values

  • Marc Thommen (University of Zürich)
  • Penelope Gibbs (Transform Justice)
  • Jackie Hodgson (Warwick University) (TBC)
  • Discussant: Carolyn Mc Kay (Sydney University)

Focus of the panel:
Changing the parameters of the trial automatically raises the question of how this affects the traditional ideals of a fair trial. Increasing efficiency and court productivity are at the heart of many – if not most – criminal justice modernization programmes. Because of its potential for saving costs and time, using technology is considered a valuable solution to the present day problems. However, before making any permanent changes, we should consider how the use of technology during trial affects the concept of procedural fairness as we know it. The traditional ideals of justice and due process do not necessarily ‘fit’ the new context of the virtual criminal trial. Also, traditional fair trial concepts such as ‘presence’ and ‘effective participation’ can be affected. In itself, this is not problematic: procedural fairness is a fluid concept. This is – however – a complex process that needs time and consideration. In this panel we will focus on how virtual criminal justice requires us to rethink traditional due process values applicable during trial. How can we conceptualise fairness in the context of virtual criminal justice?

Key words:
Concept of presence, Equality of arms, Presumption of innocence, Effective participation/right to confront witnesses, Effective defence and legal assistance in particular (quality of representation), Impact on other forms of assistance (e.g. interpretation).

PANEL D: The endless potential of technology in the courtroom: how to move forward

  • Christina Peristeridou (Maastricht University)
  • Dorris de Vocht (Tilburg University)
  • Discussant: tbd

Focus of the panel:
The potential technology has to offer seems endless and technological developments move much faster than changes in law. What seems futuristic now, my be realistic in a few years. Some justice systems adapt to technological developments faster than others. China, for example, already has a wide experience with AI assisted (non human) judges and internet courts. In this panel we want to have a look at the latest technology to get an idea of its potential in the context of the criminal trial. Also, we will consider the potential of virtual reality to realise a sense of presence through virtual justice (immersive virtual environment technology- IVET). Finally, in this session we will summarise the most important lacunae in existing research and identify potential ways to start filling these gaps.

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We thank all partners for the funding and making this event possible. 


Physical participation fee is € 50,- per person. 
Online participation via Zoom is free.
Please register via the green button on the right side of this page.