Witnesses Testify at Trial By Video Conference


Witnesses may testify in court proceedings by video conference.

disinherited.com recently had clients living in Australia who had an estate dispute here in British Columbia.

When it came time for the opposing counsel to ask the plaintiff’s pretrial questions under oath, such as in a deposition or examination for discovery, we agreed between counsel that we would do it by Skype and thus save literally thousands of dollars in travel expenses and the like.

It is simply a new way of thinking and using technology to greater benefit access to justice.

The recent decision of Slaughter v Sluys 2010 BCSC 1576, although not an estate litigation case, is a good example of such use of technology.

The plaintiff applied to have seven lay witnesses and four expert witnesses testify at trial by videoconference.

The application was opposed on the basis that it offends the principles of fundamental justice.

The plaintiff gave evidence that the videoconference testimony would save approximately $50,000 in expenses, and would markedly reduce the inconvenience experienced by the witnesses in traveling and testifying at the trial.

The court referenced section 73 (2) of the Evidence Act which provides that the court may allow a witness to testify by video conference unless the court is satisfied that receiving the evidence that way would be contrary to the fundamental principles of justice.

The criteria for the court to consider if one party objects are as follows:

A. The location and personal circumstances of the witness;

B. The costs that would be incurred if the witness had to be physically present;

C. The nature of the evidence the witness is  expected to give;

D. Any other circumstance the court considers appropriate

The court allowed four expert witnesses and two lay people to testify by video conference.

The court refused the others to testify by video on the basis that their evidence would likely be very contentious, and that none of them had provided the court with any indication that they would be personally inconvenienced or suffer hardship as a result of testifying.

The court stated that the new Rules of Court enacted in 2010 have a renewed emphasis on the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of a proceeding on its merits, which involves the consideration of proportionality.

The court acknowledged the great advances in the quality of communication via videoconferencing and found that it to be an acceptable and satisfactory method of receiving evidence from a witness, which is not inhibited the Court’s  assessment of credibility or the findings of facts.

disinherited.com applauds this decision and hopes that many other such decisions  from our courts will embrace  technology to allow greater and cheaper public access to our courts.

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