Following from the success of its first two paperless hearings, the Land and Environment Court has scheduled a further five hearings this year and early next in which all the evidence will be on a USB stick.

The first two paperless hearings were compulsory acquisition matters involving Roads and Maritime Services as the acquiring authority under Class 3 (Compulsory acquisition) of the Court’s Jurisdiction. Those hearings were conducted as part of a sustainability initiative supported by the Australian Legal Sector Alliance and the Office of Environment and Heritage.

It is estimated that those two paperless hearings conducted in Sydney and Ballina saved about 100,000 pages of photocopying. The future hearings are estimated to cut printing by over half a million pages.

Going paperless is a move with obvious environmental benefits, easing the burden on trees while also reducing energy use and transport emissions. Parties recognise that only a fraction of the often hundreds of thousands of pages printed for a trial are ultimately relied on by the court – the adoption of paperless trials will eliminate much of the waste resulting from court processes.

Beyond the environmental considerations, there are a raft of benefits for parties themselves that were illustrated during the Land and Environment Court’s first paperless hearings. The cost, storage and time efficiencies were immediately apparent, as parties were able to travel to and from court with everything they needed on one USB device. This is an advantage that will be especially realised during court proceedings in regional areas, where parties may currently need to expend substantial resources in transporting their materials to the location.

Further, the setup of a paperless courtroom is advantageous to everyone involved. Counsel can access their evidence through computers at the bar, which is then projected onto the wall of the courtroom. Laser pointers are used to draw attention to the relevant aspect of the projected image. Those involved in the Land and Environment Court’s first two paperless hearings remarked that finding documents was faster and more reliable through folders on a laptop as opposed to searching through bundles of documents. Any concerns about the unreliability of WiFi were ameliorated by having emergency internet dongles on hand.

The very fact of everyone looking up at the same projected image rather than down at their separate folders of documents was hailed for improving communication between the parties and the Bench, while also facilitating the clients’ involvement in what could otherwise be impossible to understand. Interested onlookers can also experience the courtroom in a way like never before.

The Land and Environment Court’s two trials have already demonstrated that paperless courtrooms can be achieved inexpensively and without inconvenience to the parties. Rather, the testimonies of those involved conveyed a very positive attitude towards the experience, despite initial apprehension about the different style of courtroom conduct demanded of counsel.

Those watching the further five trials to be conducted in the remainder of 2017 and early 2018 will see the full implications of paperless hearings for parties and the future of the courtroom.

Holding Redlich acts for the applicant in the first Class 1 (Development appeal) matter that will be held as a paperless hearing in February 2018.