Supreme Court of Victoria eyes virtual courtrooms

Court goes all-in on cloud

The Supreme Court of Australia is looking at the possibility of using “virtual courtrooms” for hearings — a move made possible by the court’s wholesale shift to the cloud.

Pauline Diano, the court’s program director for digital strategy, said that virtual courtrooms could be delivered from within Office 365 using Skype for Business.

“The Supreme court of Victoria will now be able to sit anywhere in the world,” she said. “The judge can dial the parties, the judge can dial out to the transcript, the judge can send a feed out to the Internet so it’s open to the public and bang – there’s a directions hearing in chambers.”

Diano also predicted an “exponential” increase in electronic trials, with parties relying on electronic rather than paper files. She said that industry data shows that an electronic trial can be one third quicker than a traditional trial due in part to the ease of finding the relevant part of an exhibit.

Bringing new technologies into the court process has largely been made possible by ditching physical infrastructure in favour of cloud services, according to Diano.

In her role, Diano has overseen a migration to Microsoft’s Azure cloud services. The trigger for the process was Victoria’s courts on 1 July 2014 gaining their independence from the executive arm of government and no longer sitting within the state’s Department of Justice and Regulation.

Although the courts became formally independent, at the time they still relied on the department’s technology infrastructure, and much of it was approaching or past end of life.

“The court’s case management system, which is its mission-critical application, was unsupported. All its applications — all unsupported and sitting on hardware that hadn’t changed in 10 years,” Diano said.

In 2015, Diano was brought in to migrate the court away from the department’s network and onto one that it owned and controlled. Diano said that the process received significant support from the, at the time, newly installed Supreme Court of Victoria CEO, Louise Anderson

“We literally had to start from scratch — this was greenfields,” Diano said.

“We had a network to completely refresh: New edge switches, new core switches, fibre everywhere.”

All of the court’s applications also had to be rebuilt to run on Azure. But before that, Diano had to convince the court that shifting to cloud was the right move.

The court’s case management system was used for a proof of concept. Part of the process involved stripping out a range of middleware that had accumulated over the life of the system and decoupling its bespoke document management system, then integrating SharePoint in its place (SharePoint was already used for document management by the court outside of the application). The process also involved upgrading databases, from Oracle 9 to 12c, and migrating the relevant data.

All up, it took four weeks. “If we did this on physical servers, those servers wouldn’t have arrived in four weeks,” Diano said.

It cost $60 — for baked goods to feed participants in a partner-based workshop organised by Diano.

Following the proof of concept, Diano received the greenlight for the cloud migration.

“Absolutely everything in the Supreme Court of Victoria runs in the cloud — we have one on-premise server and that’s an [Active Directory] server that the boys do some builds for the local machines on,” Diano said. “And even then, I start crying about it. But we’ve got two AD servers in the cloud; this one’s just like a little backup.”

The tech team worked closely with Microsoft and technology partners Ensyst and Acclimation for a number of months to workshop the new architecture, and then over a period of 18 months rebuilt “absolutely everything” in Azure. On 2 January this year the migration was completed.

“Our foundations are complete,” Diano said.

Legacy systems had been acting as a fetter on innovation before the transition, she said. “You cannot innovate when your entire environment is old,” Diano said.