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The metaverse is testing the limits of what is legally possible

It’s no secret that over the last few years, many physical events have digital iterations or have been wholly digitized into virtual reality.

Recently, in Colombia, a local judge decided to hold a court hearing in the metaverse as an experiment with the technology. It was a civil case involving a traffic incident, which will progress further “partially” in the metaverse.

While many believe that the metaverse will reshape our social lives, it begs the question of whether digital reality can best serve important societal moments, such as court cases, where an individual’s future may be at stake. Cointelegraph spoke with Carlo D’Angelo, a former law professor and crypto criminal defense lawyer, to better understand the possible role of the metaverse in the legal system. 

The metaverse court case in Colombia was not far from what legal systems worldwide needed to do during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was to go digital. D’Angelo said:

“This urgent need to conduct the court’s business, [amid] a global pandemic, most certainly accelerated the mass adoption by judges of Zoom and other video conferencing services.”

D’Angelo told Cointelegraph that while these Zoom sessions worked for moving dockets and court hearings, the technology we’re currently working with is not well suited for jury trials.

Colombian court hearing held in the metaverse, February 15, 2023. Source: Reuters

The main reason is the in-person “subtle visual cues,” biases, and verbal and non-verbal cues are not picked up remotely, especially behind a metaverse avatar.

“While it may be possible to overcome these issues in a civil trial —especially with the consent of the parties — virtual criminal trials raise additional concerns.”

D’Angelo said watching the Colombian court hearing made him wonder what physical cues were being missed, such as raising an eyebrow from the judge or fidgeting from the opposition.

“I feel like advocating through a digital avatar takes something raw and emotionally vital away from that experience.”

He continued to say that it may be possible to overcome some of these issues in a civil trial, though virtual criminal trials will continue to raise additional concerns, as a person’s freedom is on the line.

Related: The ethics of the metaverse: Privacy, ownership and control

At least in the United States, he said too many constitutional rights are at stake, such as a defendant’s right to be “present” at trial and the right to “confront” the prosecution’s witnesses under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. constitution.

D’Angelo said as both a lawyer and a “technologist,” he is bullish on the future of Web3 technology and how it can advance the legal profession. However, he believes there are still many challenges to overcome before courts adopt metaverse trials and hearings. 

“Innovation cannot come at the expense of a fair trial.”

He said the future of metaverse court hearings would largely depend on the general public’s mass adoption of augmented or virtual reality. If all parties are comfortable with the technology, he said, “maybe we will see metaverse hearings start to show up on court dockets.” 

At the moment, there is a growing community of lawyers, advocates and others involved in legal matters, who are becoming familiar with Web3 technologies and how they can impact the industry. 

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