One in five Irish judges rate standard of IT equipment in courtrooms as 'poor'

One In Five Irish Judges Rate Standard Of It Equipment In Courtrooms As 'Poor'
The research found a majority of Irish judges are concerned about online hearings, which grew in popularity during the Covid pandemic.
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Seán McCárthaigh

More than one in five members of the judiciary rated the standard of IT equipment used in trials and other courtroom hearings as poor, according to the findings of a new survey on the attitude of judges to technology.

The research also shows that a majority of Irish judges are concerned about online hearings, which grew in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic, as a substitute for face-to-face hearings in actual courtrooms with regard to issues of fairness and open justice.


It revealed that some judges hold strong negative views about the continued use of remote hearings for administering justice, while some also have concerns about being replaced by AI (artificial intelligence) in the future.

The results of the research, which are published in the latest edition of the Irish Judicial Studies Journal, show that 22 per cent of members of the judiciary categorised the IT equipment used in courtrooms for playback and video links as well as tele-conferencing as poor with another 40 per cent rating it as adequate.

According to the research, 55 out of 173 serving judges participated in the survey – a response rate of almost one in three

Judges from the District Court accounted for 38 per cent of the total followed by High Court (29 per cent), Circuit Court (24 per cent) and Court of Appeal (9 per cent).


No members of the Supreme Court took part in the research.

The survey of members of the Irish judiciary is part of wider global research of around 1,000 judges from countries including Scotland, Canada, Brazil, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Portugal.

Judges made varying degrees of criticism about personal internet access in courtrooms and the general availability of Wi-Fi in court buildings with 28 per cent rating it as poor.

“The overall picture is one of patchy internet access and Wi-Fi availability, particularly in the lower tiers of the court system,” the study observed.


While judges expressed concern about the lack of digital case management systems, they were broadly positive about the access and quality of legal databases available to them.

The survey also showed that more than half of all respondents indicated that video-conferencing technology was “average”, “poor” or “very poor”.

The study claimed such a finding suggested “a generally cautious, if not sceptical, view on whether this technology improves the quality of justice.”

It noted that no judge voiced a preference for remote hearings over in-person proceedings.


Remote hearings were described by some judges as “inferior”, “sub-optimal” and “very unsatisfactory.”

One judge observed that they represented “a failure to administer justice in public in any real way.”

Another remarked that online hearings had the perception of being “something less than a formal court hearing.”

Other judges said remote hearings were particularly unsuitable for contested issues of fact where it could be “very difficult to judge a person’s disposition, attitude and mannerisms.”


The research noted that one judge expressed concern about the “digital divide” whereby older people had difficulty in using technology.

However, several judges also claimed remote hearings were useful or effective for short or procedural hearings that were straightforward and uncontested, for case management and for hearing evidence from expert witnesses as well as commercial law in general.

The study said the survey’s findings showed there was “no appetite for the wholesale replacement of in-person hearings with online proceedings” due to fundamental concerns about the appropriateness of their use, even if IT technology in courtrooms improved.

Official figures show the use of video conferencing and remote hearings increased over fourfold in the Republic between 2019 and 2021.

The study concluded that there was general satisfaction among judges with the technology available in chambers but less so with equipment provided in courtrooms.

The authors of the report – Technological University Dublin law lecturer, Brian Barry and University of Galway associate professor of law, Rónán Kennedy – said the results of the survey highlighted issues that deserved further debate including the dissatisfaction with regard to remote hearings.

The study said a particularly pressing research question was what type of proceedings were suited for remote hearings without compromising natural justice and fair procedures.

Despite the widespread use of remote hearings as a response to public health concerns during the pandemic, however, it noted that the initial reaction from members of the Irish judiciary would indicate the answer might be “quite limited in scope.”

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It recommended that the judiciary in the Republic should engage in a thorough assessment of the capabilities of AI tools to perform judicial tasks and to develop a coherent position on where and how they can and cannot be used “before these decisions are made elsewhere.”

The survey also showed that almost 7 out of 10 judges expressed concern about the time available for judicial training on technology.

The study said the finding about the dissatisfaction by judges about the amount of time available to attend training highlighted how the Government needs to take steps to address the insufficient resourcing of the Irish judiciary, particularly as Ireland has consistently had the lowest number of judges per capita within the EU.

On a positive note, 9 out of 10 judges said they still enjoyed their work despite any reservations they had about changes in the judiciary.

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