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The University of Ottawa is the first Canadian university to hold a mock trial in the metaverse

The Common Law Section of the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) is taking advocacy to the next level by holding a trial in the Metaverse on March 26.

According to the school’s website, it will be the first Canadian university to “harness the power of virtual reality [VR] to simulate a trial, giving students the technical skills that will be needed in the future when the courtroom moves online.

Ayushi Dave, University of Ottawa Technology Fellow

Third-year JD student and tech fellow Ayushi Dave, who worked on the Metaverse project, noted that technology has become “an integral part of everyone’s professional and personal life.”

She said the tech fellows “wanted to explore innovative ways to address real-world issues that have not only been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” but also “issues that have restricted access to justice.” from the beginning of time”.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made us more isolated from our peers. The 2Ls in particular haven’t had the opportunity to interact with each other on a more personal level. So when we were looking at different options that we could explore to address these issues, we came across VR and it sort of removes that location barrier,” Dave explained, noting that VR makes it possible to meet people in the same room. even if they “are on the other side of the world or on the other side of the country”.

“With just a little more experimentation, VR could help break down barriers to access to justice, so that’s just a small part of what we think VR can do,” she added, noting that the mock trial “was the first step” to seeing where the technology could lead.

Ritesh Kotak, University of Ottawa Technology Fellow

Ritesh Kotak, University of Ottawa Technology Fellow

Ritesh Kotak, a third-year JD student and technology researcher working on the project, said that when the pandemic started two years ago, “we all had a vested interest in leveraging technology, but we didn’t want to do a dressing solution”.

“It’s not just about moving to a virtual collaboration platform. It’s, ‘what is the art of the possible? How can technology really be harnessed in innovative ways? and with all the talk that’s been going on, especially in the last year, about the metaverse, we started looking at what we could actually do,” he said, noting that two years ago , virtual reality was “prohibitively expensive”.

“We were getting ridiculous quotes to create virtual courtrooms,” he said, adding that tech fellows “continued to explore” virtual reality and that in the past year the technology has grown. “accelerated”.

“There are more developers. The cost of hardware has come down significantly and there’s a lot of noise around it, so there are ways for us to leverage this kind of platform and technology as it enables physical presence in the virtual world,” did he declare.

Kotak noted that the legal profession has gone from being physically “in one place” to a virtual court “where we were little boxes on a screen,” but he wondered “how do we take that and combine the elements of both worlds? ”

“And that’s where virtual reality came in,” he added, explaining that the tech fellows teamed up with the university’s advocacy program manager to create the “first-ever virtual reality advocacy “.

“It shows us what is possible, but also what the challenges are and how can we move forward in this space,” he said.

Dave explained that all of the finalists in the running all received an Oculus 2 headset and an avatar.

“It’s going to take place in a virtual courtroom designed by ENGAGE XR, so we’ve already started training them [students] how to use the headset and how they can move around the virtual environment,” she added.

Kotak noted that the tech fellows are also working on making virtual dresses in time for the three judges.

“It’s really interesting in that you’re going to have two plaintiffs and two respondents sitting on either side,” he said, noting that “if someone on your right is talking,” you “hear it from the speaker on the right side”. of the helmet.

“So you naturally turn your head to the right and your avatar’s head turns to the right and everyone in the courtroom also turns to the right,” he explained, adding that the team also “created virtual seats in the gallery”.

“We’re going to have individuals join us with their avatars and we’re going to lock them in a seat in the gallery, and they’ll be able to see from that particular view, so it’s going to look like a real trial, a real courtroom. “, did he declare.

Kotak noted that it’s important for lawyers to learn about the metaverse for several reasons, the first being as a training tool.

“What better way to practice than setting up a VR courtroom? Feeling like you’re in the courthouse practicing your arguments,” he said, noting that the Metaverse has “this realistic feel, so from a training and education perspective” is a positive thing for students.

He pointed out that there was also a “wider conversation” to be had “about the laws of evidence or the future of evidence” and “access to justice”.

“There are a lot of people who might not be able to get to a courtroom. Can we really create a virtual reality courtroom for fly-in communities? he asked, noting that judges traveling to remote communities “may not be the most efficient or effective way to mobilize resources.”

“The other thing that’s really interesting is that there’s a lot of development going on in this space, which is changing at a rapid pace, and it calls into question, what’s the future of evidence? ” he added.

Kotak noted that people are “used to seeing CCTV or surveillance footage in courtrooms,” but the future of VR is the ability to “take 360° cameras and drone footage. of a real scene and recreating it to the point where we can actually teleport”. anyone with headphones on this scene, recreate the scene, play with it, touch it without disturbing it.

“Are we there already? No, but we’re getting there and at some point it’s going to be a thing,” he said, emphasizing that “personal use is a prerequisite for understanding and if we We’re really there, we understand the opportunities. We can also look at what the future challenges are in this space and try to address them quickly.”

Dave noted that “on a fundamental level, the legal profession has been very resistant to change, especially technological change, so there is a problem of technological competence in our profession”.

“It’s really important for lawyers to be more aware of where technology is going, the integration of technology, whether it’s employment, family law, criminal law, the law matters. . It’s in all aspects of our lives and so by bringing technology to a more user-friendly level, something that they can have fun with, I think that’s a very important way to slowly introduce the importance technology in the profession,” she explained. .

Kotak pointed out that the fictional Metaverse lawsuit is “in its infancy” and “it’s important to understand that.”

“It won’t be perfect from the start, but it’s a first and we hope it will start a broader conversation about how innovative technology can be harnessed to co-create spaces that promote access to justice. “, he said, emphasizing that “there are tons of opportunities here, and we want to start this conversation on a very substantial level, especially with regard to the metaverse”.

“The metaverse is going to be a thing. It’s not going away and as I’ve said before, personal use is a prerequisite for understanding, and we truly believe that,” he added.

The judges for the first metaverse mock trial will be retired Supreme Court of Canada Justice Ian Binnie, Justice Jodie-Lynn Waddilove of the Ontario Court of Justice and Ron LeClair, director of LeClair and Associates.

LeClair and Associates “will provide funding for the faculty’s metaverse project through 2026,” a statement from the university noted.

“We are grateful to have the opportunity to support the University of Ottawa, the creators and hosts of the first ever Virtual Reality Dummy Contest. It is exciting to help law students – our future colleagues – explore innovative ways to promote access to justice for all,” LeClair said in a statement.

“This is another example of how the Advocacy Program at the University of Ottawa continues to be a leader and innovate. We have many students who are hungry to sharpen their advocacy skills. I am very proud of what is now a long list of outstanding students who have gone on to become outstanding members of our profession,” said Professor Anthony Daimsis, director of the Common Law Section’s Advocacy Program, in a statement.

Photo credit: uOttawa Metaverse Courtroom image used with permission from Ritesh Kotak.

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