The Illinois Supreme Court recently announced the creation of a Remote Proceedings Task Force to evaluate the current state of remote proceedings and provide best practice recommendations across the state.
The Task Force, which is composed of circuit judges, trial court administrators, circuit clerks, and practicing attorneys, is expected to make recommendations to the Supreme Court about potential rule and policy changes and trainings to further the use of virtual methods for conducting court business.
“Remote proceedings are not the wave of the future, they are our present,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said in the press release. “Illinois Courts have a long history of increasing access to justice and responding to the needs of the communities they serve. The Task Force will be an important part of ensuring that progress continues. While this work is going on, it is expected that courts across the state continue to offer remote appearances.”
The state of remote hearings in Illinois
Remote hearings in Illinois, especially for civil matters, have increased in frequency as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Supreme Court Rules 45 and 241 highlight the importance of remote proceedings and the Supreme Court has emphasized that they aren’t temporary measures.
Recently, a majority of jurisdictions lifted their mask requirements, temperature checks, and social distancing for in-person proceedings. However, remote proceedings have continued.
According to the Court, remote proceedings in Illinois have improved access to justice and participation, led to fewer defaults and failures to appear, and enhanced case management and scheduling.
Additionally, remote hearings help eliminate travel and child care barriers and reduce emotional stress and safety concerns for those involved in cases like divorce or abuse.
The Illinois Senate recently voted to pass a measure that provides domestic violence and sexual assault survivors the option of remote hearings in the state’s nine largest counties.
Access to technology
Technological literacy and access to technology vary greatly by location for both court users and courthouses. The Task Force’s recommendations will account for these discrepancies.
Illinois courthouses thus far have adopted resources for court patrons to use when accessing and navigating remote proceedings, following the guidance of the Supreme Court.
The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts is also in the process of providing funding to every circuit court in the state to permanently upgrade technology in courtrooms for remote proceedings.
The state of remote proceedings nationally
A first-of-its-kind study by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) surveyed judges on the impact of remote proceedings on courts and court users. Eight Texas jurisdictions and 52 judges tracked their judicial time and provided qualitative data on the benefits and disadvantages of remote hearings.
Remote hearings have improved access to justice in many cases and made it easier to attend hearings for rural litigants, families, and lower-income individuals. However, the digital divide has presented some resistance.
In addition, the study found that remote hearings take about one-third (34%) longer than in-person hearings, primarily due to issues like more parties in attendance, fewer default judgments due to accessibility, and technical difficulties.