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Meet Victoria Quiñones, Colombia’s new ‘metaverse judge’

Meet the woman bringing Colombia's justice system into the age of AI and the metaverse
Meet the woman bringing Colombia's justice system into the age of AI and the metaverse Copyright Euronews/Despacho 01
Copyright Euronews/Despacho 01
By Camille Bello
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Victoria Quiñones is bringing Colombia’s justice system into the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and the metaverse.

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María Victoria Quiñones Triana, also known as Vicky Quiñones, made history earlier this year by hosting Colombia’s first-ever court hearing in the metaverse.

Quiñones, a magistrate at the administrative court of Magdalena - in the northern Caribbean city of Santa Marta i is known for running "one of the most disruptive courts in the country,” in the words of the president of Colombia's criminal bar association, Francisco Bernante.

In an exclusive interview with Euronews Next, Quiñones spoke about her journey battling Colombia’s "paper culture" and the future of justice using artificial intelligence (AI).

The 55-year-old hosted Colombia’s first-ever court hearing in the metaverse in February, but has been betting on the digital transformation of justice for almost 15 years.

Magdalena, the small town where Quiñones is based, has some particular geographical characteristics. “Almost all the municipalities are very far away; eight hours by car, six hours by car; the roads are not easy, you even have to cross rivers,” she said.

That remoteness inspired Quiñones to look into how technology could help democratise access to justice.

“We had a physical divide, so I thought we had to build digital bridges,” she said.

In 2012, Quiñones founded a website called ‘Despacho 01’ - which she still runs and funds - with the simple purpose of providing online jurisprudence for her court, starting with the digitisation of legal dossiers.

Euronews/Despacho 01
Victoria Quiñonez with her colleagues at the administrative court of MagdalenaEuronews/Despacho 01

"I thought it was terrible that people who lived in remote municipalities had to take a bus for eight, six hours, just to see a file. So we started telling them to scan their documents and send them by email,” she explained.

Her court then created a platform within the same website where people could access the briefs with a code.

At the time, promoting digital dossiers was “unthinkable,” she said.

Around the same year, Quiñones started broadcasting her court hearings on Youtube and allowing those who could not attend court proceedings to attend via a WhatsApp video call, “in order to guarantee the rights of all parties involved in the proceedings”.

“We were creating this culture of no paper (…) and actually there was the same or even more resistance than there is now to the metaverse,” she told Euronews Next.

Colombia’s first-ever court hearing in the metaverse

Quiñones started fantasising about the uses of the metaverse for her magisterial procedures shortly after the pandemic began.

“I started talking about it on my YouTube channel and suggesting it would be great if we could give it a try. Then one lawyer from an upcoming plaintiff proposed we did the hearing this way, and it was also accepted by the defendant. I was delighted”.

The challenge with Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp and similar platforms is that once you turn the camera off, “it becomes a principle of good faith,” she said. “You cannot confirm identities, and the sense of interaction completely disappears”.

The metaverse, on the other hand, “has a very important sensory element to it, there is an immediate sense of closeness, similar to what we feel when we see each other in flesh and bones,” she explains.

"The identity verification process is also more thorough; there is even a voice recognition software".

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Quiñones hosted the legal session in Horizon Workrooms 18, the free virtual collaborative application developed by Meta. All parties - lawyers, clerks, defendants, plaintiffs, etc - showed up in the metaverse using their respective avatars (digital representations of people that look like a cartoon and which are often used in virtual worlds or online gaming).

Quiñones presided over the hearing in a virtual courtroom designed to resemble a traditional one. Once it started, the magistrate heard arguments from both sides, reviewed evidence, and made a ruling on the case.

The metaverse’s ‘enormous’ potential for the justice system

Beyond helping out the people who cannot physically make it to a court hearing, using the metaverse could also help those who cannot bring themselves to attend because of the emotional toll it would take.

For people who have lived trauma, for example, such as women or children who have been victims of abuse, it is often difficult to confront their aggressor.

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In the metaverse, I can create an environment where they feel safe to talk about what happened and confront their perpetrator without being afraid
María Victoria Quiñones Triana
Magistrate at the administrative court of Magdalena

“In the metaverse, I can create an environment where they feel safe to talk about what happened and confront their perpetrator without being afraid,” Quiñones said.

The naysayers will eventually give in, she added.

“Soon, the same judges who are reluctant to put on virtual reality (VR) glasses or even to examine digital dossiers will have to deal with intellectual property lawsuits within the same metaverse,” she predicted.

“In one way or another, life will find a way for us not to turn our backs on technology”.

What is the future of justice?

“It certainly won't be in the metaverse, at least not in Colombia's immediate future,” said Quiñones.

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Colombia, as much as the rest of South America, also has a poor Internet infrastructure, “and none of the emerging technologies can be implemented without that basis,” she explained.

The country’s judicial branch is still working very hard “to try to break the paradigm of digital and getting rid of paper, as well as improving the process to digitise the files and the platforms for their access,” she added.

But local constraints have not stopped Quiñones from continuing to imagine the future of the law. Most recently, in conjunction with her office, the magistrate has been working to implement artificial intelligence in certain procedures.

"I want to automate systems where I see that human interaction is not needed," she said.

To speed up the process of approving damage claims, for example, Quiñones is working to create “an automated, simple digital form in which people would answer questions related to their complaint and provide the relevant documents. Then AI could determine whether the lawsuit proceeds or not”.

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This could help deal with the problem of “the many people who sue for the sake of suing, and also to reduce the cost and time of the first round of legal services”.

Her administrative court also used the AI large language model ChatGPT to explain the concept of the metaverse to the audience of the February 15 hearing, which was streamed live on Youtube and watched by more than 68,000 people.

But Quiñones’ main goal for the near future is clear: “I hope we will help the world understand that technology not only helps to make friends, find boyfriends or buy shoes but also to serve justice”.

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