A man in Nigeria was sentenced to death via the popular video conferencing app Zoom this week – this after courts in Nigeria turn to video-conferencing platforms as the country struggles under nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19.
CNN reports that in a virtual court hearing on Monday, Olalekan Hameed was found guilty of murdering his mother’s employer in 2018 and had been sentenced to death by hanging, a practice still prevalent in the country’s penal system.
A judge at a court in Lagos delivered the ruling to Hameed, who appeared remotely from prison via Zoom, along with his lawyer and prosecutors who also joined the hearing remotely, justice ministry spokesman Kayode Oyekanmi told CNN.
Hameed has since denied the charge and remains in prison, says Oyekanmi. The court held the session via Zoom to comply with the state’s social distancing guidelines to curb coronavirus infections across the country – having 3526 total cases and 107 deaths.
Rights groups have been campaigning for the end of capital punishment in Nigeria, and now Amnesty International Nigeria claims that due to the nature of the hearing – that it was performed virtually and that the public was not allowed access to the proceedings – justice may not have been done correctly.
Whether or not a virtual hearing for a death sentence is against human rights waits to be seen, but what is sure is that the use of software and services like Zoom to perform more and more important functions in society will only increase as people settle into the new normal of a post-coronavirus world.
Kenya’s judiciary has also begun to send judgements via email and video chats. In this case, using services like Skype. The Justice Department of Kenya announced on Twitter that they will deliver a number of judgements via the platform.
— The Judiciary Kenya (@Kenyajudiciary) March 31, 2020
The Judiciary also announced that all courts were to deliver pending judgements via email.
Lawyers were advised to send information to emails provided by the Judiciary itself, which includes case numbers, email addresses, telephone numbers, as well as additional case details like whether the case is awaiting ruling or judgement, the date of the judgement TBD, and finally the name of the respective appointed judge.
Kenya’s judiciary forwent the government’s in-house emailing services, instead turning to Gmail in order to handle these delicate matters.
In the UK, court cases are also being conducted via virtual courtrooms. Participants, including judges and lawyers, are connecting from home and streaming the proceedings on the court’s websites.
A similar trend is happening across the world in supreme courts of Brazil, China, India and Singapore.
The Financial Times makes interesting questions about this ongoing theme – is court a service or a place? Do people really need to gather together in a building to settle legal disputes?
They write that a few weeks ago most judges and lawyers would reject the idea of a virtual courtroom, but the reality of the coronavirus has forced their hands. It was previously believed that cultural barriers would have courts remain the same for decades more. Then the virus came and the courts closed in a fortnight.
The Financial Times continues to say that anecdotal evidence suggests that most remote hearings have gone well over the last month. In England and Wales, over 80% of court and tribunal caseloads were handled remotely – with no reported mishaps.
There is no doubt that technology can provide the solutions humans are looking for, and there is little doubt in the mind of futurists that virtual courts would one day be the norm of legal and correctional systems across the globe.
The challenge going forward will be to develop ways to deliver court services in methods that were previously thought impossible – ways never before imagined. As is the great power of technology to boggle the mind, a power that lies in transformation. The transformation of the world’s correctional systems, not their automation.
By Luis Monzon
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