Published on: Monday, October 12, 2020

New questions are being raised about our legal system in the time of COVID-19. To ensure social distancing, many courts have closed their doors and moved to virtual hearings, with some even using social media to stream the proceedings. But who should have access to watch those cases, which are often full of sensitive, emotional and personal information? The question is igniting a national debate (article available here).

Video of states carrying on with court by streaming cases on the web, including everything from criminal arraignments of suspects in orange jumpsuits, to custody hearings where parents try to decide who gets the kids. The videos were posted on official, public YouTube pages, often remaining online for hours after they were live-streamed to the world.

Some victim advocates are concerned that opening court proceedings to anyone with an internet connection could lead to victims being re-traumatized, as well as potential intimidation of witnesses. There is also a serious concern defendants could be harmed when courts go online through the creation of a permanent video record that could continue to exist, even if they are found not guilty.