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National Center for State Courts study finds remote hearings take longer, but improve access
Williamsburg, Va. (February 23, 2022) – Remote proceedings take about a third longer than in-person hearings but also provide increased access to justice as litigants can more easily attend and participate in hearings, according to a National Center for State Courts (NCSC) exploratory study of Texas courts.
This first national review of data confirms what judges have anecdotally shared about remote hearings before and during the pandemic. The 12-month study analyzed both 1.25 million minutes of judicial data and focus group feedback from judges and court leaders in eight counties across Texas.
“Remote hearings are here to stay, and even though they take slightly longer than traditional in-person hearings, it is great to see that was often the result of increased participation by litigants. More litigants participating and fewer defaults will certainly lengthen hearings,” said David Slayton, former Texas state court administrator and NCSC vice president for Court Consulting Services. “At the same time, it’s important for courts to identify and address technology issues related to remote proceedings to reduce their impact on judicial workload.”
While the study’s findings mostly confirmed what Texas court leaders thought to be true, Slayton said he was somewhat surprised that remote hearings take longer across all case types – indicating technology is an issue that all courts need to address.
Both he and the report suggest that courts can reduce the length of hearings by hiring “technology bailiffs,” who can better prepare remote hearing participants for their hearings and handle technology glitches that occur during hearings.
Other recommendations include:
- Creating guidelines to determine which hearings should be in-person or remote.
- Scheduling hearings efficiently while also considering litigant participation.
- Ensuring paperwork is completed before hearings begin.
- Providing easily accessible systems for participant use.
- Encouraging judges to take breaks between hearings.
The Texas Office of Court Administration recognized the timeliness of capturing and assessing data on remote hearings to guide continued improvements, according to Jeffrey Tsunekawa, director of research and court services.
“Specifically, we know that courts need to be definite and strategic on deciding which types of cases and hearings benefit the most from remote hearings, and which generally are more successful in traditional in-person hearings,” he said. “In addition, courts need to be creative in how they solve problems with the digital divide. Loaning out computer equipment and setting up remote hearing stations that people can use who may not have personal computer equipment are just two of the creative ways courts in Texas have worked to bridge that gap.”
To view the NCSC study, supported with funding from the State Justice Institute, visit ncsc.org/txremote.