Metaverse maximalists often remark that virtual worlds represent our collective future. Last week, that vision gained credence with the news that a Colombian court has held a judicial hearing in virtual reality.
The February 15 hearing, which was presided over by Magdalena magistrate María Victoria Quiñones Triana, was held using Meta’s Horizon Worlds Workrooms with all attendees represented by avatars.
Can the Metaverse Help to Administer Justice?
A broadcast of the two-hour hearing has already been uploaded to YouTube, racking up over 64,000 views. It’s quite something to behold: the judge’s cartoonish avatar gesticulating as she reels off points of law and addresses the room; the earnest plaintiff arguing his case against a backdrop of blue skies and towering skyscrapers through huge floor-to-ceiling windows.
In real-life, attendees were ordered to secure Oculus Quest 2 eyeglasses prior to the hearing to configure their respective avatars and remotely attend proceedings. María Victoria Quiñones Triana explained that verification numbers had been dispatched to the email accounts of all parties involved, ensuring that attendees in the digital space were, in effect, avatar representatives of the relevant people.
According to the magistrate, the metaverse “constitutes a technological tool that can facilitate access to the administration of justice,” as first reported by Bitcoin.com.
“The use of information technology in the development of judicial proceedings has the essential purpose of facilitating and expediting these processes.”
The virtual hearing, which appears to be the first of its kind, was requested by a Colombian transportation company involved in proceedings. It is unclear why such a request was made, though it gives rise to the possibility of further court actions taking place in the metaverse. For example, in cases where prisoners pose a high risk of violence in the court room or when attendees cannot make the journey due to disabilities.
A number of countries are still facing a backlog of cases due to the closure of court rooms during the pandemic. In December, a CBS News investigation detailed a massive backlog of court cases delaying progress on hundreds of thousands of criminal cases throughout the United States.
Judge Skips Legal Texts, Consults ChatGPT
Interestingly, this is not the first time that the Colombian legal system has recruited cutting-edge tech. Another judge, Juan Manuel Padilla, recently leveraged generative AI tool ChatGPT to help him issue a ruling in a case, fomenting debate about whether such tech should be utilized in the legal system.
The Cartagena judge confessed to using ChatGPT to help determine whether an autistic child’s insurance should cover the cost of his medical treatment. One of Padilla’s specific queries was to ask ChatGPT “Is an autistic minor exonerated from paying fees for their therapies?” After making his final ruling, Padilla suggested the tech could help to streamline Colombia’s bloated legal system.
Supreme Court judge Octavio Tejeiro had few quibbles about Padilla’s behavior, saying “The justice system should make the most of technology as a tool but always while following ethics and taking into account that the administrator of justice is ultimately a human being.”
Others, however, will be less comfortable about the idea of an AI chatbot arbitrating on legal proceedings.