Judges coping with IT cases

An Auckland-based technology lawyer says the public shouldn't be alarmed that one judge seems to get the lion's share of technology issues.

An Auckland-based technology lawyer says the public shouldn't be alarmed that one judge seems to get the lion's share of technology issues.

Mark Copeland of Lowndes Associates says Judge David Harvey, who sits at the Manukau District Court, has handled many of the country's high profile IT cases, including the recent Venomous hacking case which resulted in Jodi Jones being sentenced to 100 hours community service for exploiting a Unix backdoor at Auckland-based ISP Web Internet.

Harvey also handled the case of Bryce Coad, who claimed to be developing a software filter for pornography. Coad pleaded guilty to importing objectionable material in May last year.

And Harvey presided over one of the country's first "hacking" cases, that of Andrew Garrett who was found guilty on four counts of reproducing a document with the intent to defraud.

However, Copeland says this doesn't mean Harvey is the only tech-savvy judge in the land. He says the rest of the bench are being trained in so-called "digital matters".

"Certainly the education of judges is ongoing."

Copeland doesn't think there is any need for judges to be rigorously trained in tech matters yet, as there are relatively few new laws that deal with this area.

"To date New Zealand has really only been applying the existing criminal law and to that degree judges don't need any particular expertise because they're familiar with the provisions of the Crimes Act that can be used for anti-hacking cases."

Copeland says the level of understanding Harvey has is not needed for all tech-related cases, however it is useful to have one judge at least who is more than simply aware of these kinds of issues.

"If it's a very involved case they've got research assistants who can lead them to the right overseas case law anyway. They're bright enough to get their minds around it."

Copeland says there is a need to up-skill, however it's more likely to happen on the job rather than in any formal setting.

"They'll reach a point where if they're not comfortable now they certainly will be as these issues arise."

Younger lawyers are also working technology issues out for themselves rather than being taught IT law as a separate area.

At the University of Otago there is no specialist IT law course - lecturer Struan Scott says it's more a case of IT law being included in other course material.

"Each of these individual developments affect specific areas and are dealt with as part of the general training. That's the way the law has coped in the last hundred years and it will continue to cope [with new developments] in the future."

The New Zealand Law Society also doesn't offer any specific IT related legal training, however it does have one-off voluntary lectures for lawyers interested in such matters.

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