NSW Court trials paperless trials

The NSW Land and Environment Court is conducting a trial of paperless hearings aiming to make justice faster, cheaper and greener.

"The court recently conducted its first paperless hearings in Sydney and Ballina, with a further five trials scheduled for later this year where every piece of evidence will be on a USB stick. It's estimated these hearings will reduce printing by over half a million pages, delivering significant environmental benefits," said NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman.

Paperless hearings utilise simple and inexpensive technology to make it easier for parties to follow the proceedings.

Mr Speakman said, "The evidence is projected onto a wall, which means everyone in court is simultaneously looking at the same thing – regardless of whether you are at the bench, bar table or in the public gallery. As all material is stored electronically, it's easier and faster to move from one exhibit to another, with parties using a laser pointer to highlight the relevant sections."

Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said it made sense to move to a paperless system wherever possible and practical. "Even a small reduction in printing is a win for the environment," Ms Upton said.

"The Office of Environment and Heritage has also funded a video to communicate the benefits of paperless trials that was launched today at the Land and Environment Court."

Land and Environment Court Chief Judge, Justice Brian Preston said: "Paperless trials will only account for a minority of hearings in the Land and Environment Court this year, but they could quickly become the norm for lengthy civil matters as the legal profession adjusts to the technology and realises the benefits."

Barristers' Clerk Michele Kearns said, "Paperless trials are a game changer in terms of convenience as they eliminate the need to transport large volumes of documents to court. It will be particularly beneficial for lawyers coming in from out of town."

Barrister Ian Hemmings SC said, "I think once practitioners see fully electronic hearings in action, everyone is going to want to get on board."

Law firm Holding Redlich writes that “It is estimated that those two paperless hearings conducted in Sydney and Ballina saved about 100,000 pages of photocopying.

“Beyond the environmental considerations, there are a raft of benefits for parties themselves that were illustrated during the Land and Environment Court’s first paperless hearings. The cost, storage and time efficiencies were immediately apparent, as parties were able to travel to and from court with everything they needed on one USB device. This is an advantage that will be especially realised during court proceedings in regional areas, where parties may currently need to expend substantial resources in transporting their materials to the location.

“Further, the setup of a paperless courtroom is advantageous to everyone involved. Counsel can access their evidence through computers at the bar, which is then projected onto the wall of the courtroom. Laser pointers are used to draw attention to the relevant aspect of the projected image. Those involved in the Land and Environment Court’s first two paperless hearings remarked that finding documents was faster and more reliable through folders on a laptop as opposed to searching through bundles of documents. Any concerns about the unreliability of WiFi were ameliorated by having emergency internet dongles on hand.

“The very fact of everyone looking up at the same projected image rather than down at their separate folders of documents was hailed for improving communication between the parties and the Bench, while also facilitating the clients’ involvement in what could otherwise be impossible to understand. Interested onlookers can also experience the courtroom in a way like never before.”