Another milestone has been marked for the metaverse after Colombia held its first legal proceedings in the virtual world.
On February 15, the administrative court of Magdalena - located in the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, in the north of the country - conducted a court session from the metaverse to hear a case against the Colombian Ministry of Defence and the National Police.
The court magistrate, María Victoria Quiñones, accepted a direct request from the plaintiff to hold the public audience in the metaverse, which was also accepted by the defendant.
During the hearing, Quiñones highlighted that the metaverse allowed for “a real interaction” and the use of the immersive technology aimed to make procedural cases more efficient, “as it allowed to bring people in the same virtual space, even when they were physically elsewhere - all without leaving aside the procedural guarantees and the principles of digital justice".
Speaking through her avatar, the judge told those in the hearing that she was " all alone in my courtroom; my colleagues are in their offices, the counsel lawyer is in her house, and the other lawyers are in their own premises where they have chosen to connect from".
The Colombian courtroom hosted the legal session in Horizon Workrooms 18, the free virtual collaborative application developed by Meta, which allows a group of people in the metaverse to meet in a virtual space through their respective avatars.
The administrative court also used ChatGPT to explain the concepts of the metaverse to the audience of the hearing, which was streamed live on Youtube and watched by over 68 thousand people.
"For a better understanding of some concepts about the metaverse… this judicial body will rely on AI, making use of ChatGPT22, a chat system that is nothing more than a language model, which has taken off in recent months, becoming popular among the community," she said.
Last year, Brazi also made headlines when the Court of Paraiba - in the northeast of the country - held the first national judicial hearing in the metaverse.
The Brazilian case was a conciliatory session in which the parties, represented by their respective customised 3D avatars, signed an agreement that ended a process on-going since 2018.
Francisco Bernante, who presides over Colombia's criminal bar association, told Colombian news magazine Semana that the Magdalena Superior Court was "one of the most disruptive courts in Colombia regarding the application of information and communications technology”.
Bernante said he thought the metaverse was particularly useful for legal cases where people wanted to avoid confrontation, as it is often the case in conciliation proceedings.
He also argued that the metaverse could become helpful in proceedings where children were involved as witnesses, defendants, and victims, to create a friendly environment.
"When it comes to children and adolescents, face-to-face spaces are very confrontational - a child who has to witness a trial, for example, can have a very traumatic experience,” he told Semana.
Replying to criticism from other lawyers deeming the practice as “complicated” and “unnecessary,” Bernante assured that hearings in the metaverse would not become the norm but that the tool could help make justice “friendlier, more efficient, and empathetic to technology and the citizens of the future”.