A NEW project aims to demystify the family court process and make the whole experience less intimidating for children in court proceedings and to help them understand how decisions are made about their future.
University of Salford legal experts, working with the Greater Manchester Court plan to use VR headsets with a specially created video to recreate the court experience. It is the first time VR has been used with courts in the UK and it has won the backing of Government and the Judiciary.
The project will be used to help vulnerable children to better understand the court system and make the whole process less intimidating. It already has the backing of some of the UK’s top judges.
Dr Shane Sullivan, Head of Law at the University of Salford Business School explains how the project will work.
He said: “Our project is initially for children involved in vulnerable care or protection proceedings. These children can be anxious as the whole court process is alien to them.
“The idea is they will watch the video with a VR headset and get a clear picture of how the courts work and then become more comfortable and relaxed, it will hopefully remove some of the fear.
“We are using legal knowledge and technical expertise to partner with and help our community.”
To create the video the team from Salford filmed in the court of Manchester Civil Justice Centre using six cameras. They recorded everything from first entering the building and getting past security, to entering a court room and the whole process of a court hearing.
This was then turned into a fully immersive video with 360 views of the whole court experience.
The video and equipment VR equipment needed to view it will be shared with several charities in the region who work with children dealing with court matters.
Barbara Stone MBE, of the Family Court at Manchester Civil Justice Centre service said: “It’s important to help vulnerable children to give them an opportunity to understand what is going on in the courtroom and I think this project should give that opportunity. It could be used to help children who have to give evidence as well
“And in the future this technology could be used for training magistrates and also helping vulnerable adult witnesses who have to give evidence in trials.”
Already the Government and high profile judges are backing the important work of the project
Courts and Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said: “This project will enable vulnerable children to better understand court processes, and how their voice can be best heard during proceedings.
“I am delighted to be working with Salford University, Cafcass and the Judiciary on this innovative project, and look forward to seeing the results.
“We are investing £1b to modernise and digitise our courts system.”
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, said: “We need new and innovative ways to inform the children, parents and wider public about the mysteries of what we do, where we do it and what to expect. This project is both new and innovative and I am sure is the beginning of a much greater use of this sort of application.
“Whether in terms of dispelling myths, enabling witnesses to give their best evidence or simply providing information I think it is likely to prove invaluable and I am very impressed with its potential. Everyone involved deserves out thanks for the work done so far and the work they will no doubt do in the future.”
And The Honourable Mr Justice Hayden, Family Division Liaison Judge for the Northern Circuit said: “This Public Law Virtual Reality project is quite simply one of the most significant developments in promoting the best quality evidence from children and young people to have occurred in many years.”