An increased reliance on video links in court matters has put prisoners at a distance from their lawyers, finds research conducted in two NSW prisons.
Prisoners in NSW are concerned the use of video link hinders their ability to have confidential talks with lawyers, according to a University of Sydney study.
Doctoral research by Carolyn McKay found the use of video links in NSW has risen more than 400 percent from 8,605 in 2002 to 44,802 in 2014, according to annual data from Corrective Services NSW and the Department of Justice.
More than 60 per cent of court appearances in NSW now happen by video link. McKay, who has undertaken her PhD at the University of Sydney’s Law School, visited two NSW prisons and spoke to over 30 prisoners while conducting the qualitative research.
"Prisoners told me how video link is positive in avoiding the hardships of transportation to and from court," said McKay. "But they also expressed concerns about being reduced to ‘just a face on a screen’ or ‘a bunch of pixels' and the potential stigma of wearing prison attire when appearing by video link."
NSW prisoners commonly appear by video link in committal proceedings, sentencing hearings, appeals and certain bail hearings. Just over a decade ago, most court proceedings of this nature took place with the prisoner physically in the courtroom, in the same room as their legal representative.
McKay said: "Prisoners felt that the lack of physical proximity with their lawyer compromised the quality of legal representation. Video link can mean prisoners cannot speak face-to-face to their lawyer before, during and after court matters and prisoners were very concerned about the impacts of this on confidentiality.
"The traditional whispered confidential communication in court is becoming a thing of the past for many legal procedures in NSW. Quiet asides and ‘off the record’ conversations during court proceedings are difficult, if not impossible, when lawyer and client are at a distance."
Video link can mean prisoners cannot speak face-to-face to their lawyer before, during and after court.