Sentencing by videolink: Up in the air?

Thomson Reuters
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Criminal Law Journal, 2010, 34 (6), pp. 363 - 384
Issue Date:
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A United Kingdom pilot scheme - where defendants pleading guilty to certain offences remotely from a police station are sentenced via videolink - has sparked considerable controversy. Although attracting less attention, sentenc-ing by videolink also occurs in Australia. The enabling legislation contains few guidelines for the exercise of judicial discretion and little is known about the nature and scope of remote - or videolinked - sentencing, or its impact on the sentencing process and participants. This article presents unique findings from an Australian empirical study about uses of videoconferencing in the justice system. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 56 judicial officers, court administrators, court staff, justice department officials, prosecutors, witnesses and lawyers. Responses pertinent to sentencing reflected both the rationale for implementing remote sentencing as well as concerns about remote sentencing procedures. Results indicated that the use of videolinks can alter the nature of sentencing proceedings, but views that technology necessarily degrades the sentencing process or renders it less effective are overly simplistic. Attention to the configuration of the technology and participants, as well as protocols and procedures for videolink use can potentially preserve the essential functions of sentencing conducted remotely. Recommendations on ways to address stakeholders' concerns without compromising the critical features of sentencing proceedings are proposed.
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