New Zealand courts system takes on US market

International Courtroom Conference to feature system used in NZ courts

Technology developed for New Zealand’s courts will be on show at the International Courtroom Conference in Denver, US, this month.

“We’ve got a real potential to export what we’ve been doing in New Zealand,” says John Abbott, country manager of Evidence Technology, which is providing equipment and expertise to the Ministry of Justice as it progressively upgrades the country’s court rooms.

In the US, fewer than 30 percent of their 75,000 court rooms are digitised. The company has recently appointed a US sales representative.

The priority in the court rooms is to address the capture of higher quality evidence, by installing better technology for recording that is easy to understand when it comes to transcription. That might mean specific microphones for each participant in a trial, with the ability to identify who said what at any given time. That involves sophisticated software in the background.

It’s known as the evidence value chain.

“We set up the environments for speaking and recording,” Abbot says.

That has meant a significant reduction in the cost of providing transcriptions. Abbott says the transcription companies put the savings at up to 30 percent.

“In the future, a lot more will be automated, so this will become critical.”

Evidence Technology was set up 12 months ago after a management buyout from Australian company Ozscript, which itself grew out of the former Commonwealth Transcription Service. The company came to New Zealand three years ago as Tranzscript on the back of a Ministry of Justice contract.

Today, it services all the appeal and high courts and more than half of the district courts and special jurisdictions. It also has a contract for the new Supreme Court being built in Wellington.

As well, it provides a portable option that can be used by organisations such as the environment court, which may need to hold a hearing in a hotel room in a provincial town. That technology has been exported to Ireland.

“Our expertise is all refined in New Zealand,” Abbott says. “Our parent company is leveraging that in Australia, where the costs of a similar service are more than double.”

The company is about to take a major leap into the field of video conferencing.

“We’ve reduced the price down to that of a simple $200 camera that sits on a PC,” Abbott says.

Evidence Technology has signed a distribution contract with a new video conferencing company, Vidyo, which has developed a new standard to allow high definition desktop video conferencing to take place so cheaply.

“It also comes with a built-in calculator, which allows you to see how much money and time you are saving by not travelling. It’s essentially a return-on-investment calculator,” he says.

Currently, the government is preparing legislation to allow questioning of prisoners to take place directly from the prison, rather than the prisoner having to travel to court. “We see that as a real opportunity for the new technology,” Abbott says.

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