Courts around the world are now using technology to increase the efficiency and quality of the litigation process. In recognition of this trend the law building at the University of Melbourne was designed to meet the contemporary and future needs of legal education. The Law School incorporates an award winning state-of-the-art moot court complex that allows students to be trained in modern courtroom procedures. The moot court allows lawyers to present their cases in new and better ways, harnessing the full benefits of technology.
The Melbourne Law School’s moot court not only replicates the functions of a modern courtroom, it is unique in that it has been designed specifically for teaching advocacy. Professor George Hampel, a former judge of the Victorian Supreme Court, assisted with the briefing of the new moot court complex.
A suite of rooms surround the main moot court and provide additional breakout and appraisal space.
The moot court provides students with the opportunity to use and incorporate the latest technologies into their arguments to the court.
From an educational perspective it was important for students using the moot court to be able to easily review their own performance. To this end an automated digital recording system was designed to capture video and audio of the case for replay and archiving. Students may study their performance to improve their advocacy skills within four specialised ‘video appraisal rooms’ that surround the main courtroom. The video can also be streamed to any location over the World Wide Web including any of the building’s twenty two lecture theatres or three computer laboratories.
Also within the moot court complex are four ‘breakout rooms’, which are in effect miniature moot courts. Each is equipped with full audio-visual facilities, including automatic video digitising. The breakout rooms use flexible furniture and can be reconfigured for other training purposes such as mediation, dispute resolution, client interviewing and negotiation exercises. A judge’s robing room and a remote witness suite round out the moot court complex.
As many lawyers now store their own records and notes in an electronic form, each seat in the moot court is provided with a power and data outlet. In fact, pervasive access to the Internet was an important design consideration for the new law building. Students may undertake research on the World Wide Web from almost any location within, or near, the building. There are over 6000 switched 100Mbit and gigabit CAT6 data outlets in theatres, seminar rooms, meeting rooms, library and lounge areas. This is further supplemented by wireless networking.
Technology is able to enhance and improve the information available to courts. Within the moot court evidence can be lodged and stored in a wide variety of formats.
Resources include video conferencing (using both ISDN and TCP/IP), 14 cameras, an MPEG digitising server for automated recording and streaming, LCD monitors for judge, bar and jurors, large plasma screens for general audience, DVD players, digital slide converters, document-cameras and an interactive electronic ‘smart’ whiteboard.
‘Crestron’ colour touchscreens permit lecturers to easily control the equipment with the rooms. This audio-visual control system is integrated across all teaching spaces and also allows remote web-based management from any location. Detailed audio-visual design was undertaken by Rutledge Engineering.
Videoconferencing has emerged as an important tool within Australian courts. This technology can obviate the need to fly in expert witnesses, transport prisoners from prison to court or to take evidence from minors or other protected witnesses. To provide students with experience with these procedures a remote witness suite forms part of the Moot Court complex.
To meet the demands of large audiences it is also possible to undertake a live broadcast from the Moot Court into the other theatres within the building.
Complementing the audio-visual hardware is specialised litigation support software that manages the workflow and communication throughout the courtroom. Ringtail CourtBook is the leading product in use within Australian courts. This program is designed as a multimedia electronic filing cabinet that integrates the main elements of the court record including real-time and historic transcript; depositions; electronic evidence; private and public information stores; links to online legal sites; calendaring and messaging. This web-based document management system has been used in the Estate Mortgage case, and HIH and Metropolitan Ambulance Service royal commissions and is now standard in the Victorian Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. It is used by eight of the top 10 Australian law firms and forms the heart of "CourtRoom21" in America. Documents within the electronic filing system can be retrieved and projected onto screens within the courtroom or via video conferencing to remote witnesses.
The new moot court opens exciting opportunities for the Law School to enhance continuing legal education and the teaching of advocacy, mediation and negotiation skills. University of Melbourne law students have unprecedented opportunities to experience the application of the law and to gain experience in the operation of the courtrooms of the future. The facilities will further strengthen the Law School’s links with legal organisations such as Courtroom21, the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration, the High Court of Australia and the legal profession. These outstanding facilities and innovations in the curriculum ensure our graduates have a thorough understanding of modern courtroom procedures and the ways in which technology in workflow communications are is transforming today’s electronic trials.