By Isabel Woodford
(Reuters) – A Colombian court this month hosted its first legal trial in the metaverse, and now hopes to experiment again with virtual reality, authorities told Reuters.
At the two-hour hearing held by Colombia’s Magdalena Administrative court, participants a traffic dispute appeared as avatars in a virtual courtroom. Magistrate Maria Quinonez Triana’s avatar dressed in black legal robes.
The country is among the earliest worldwide to test real legal hearings in the metaverse, immersive virtual reality to make digital spaces feel more lifelike, often with avatars representing each participant.
“It felt more real than a video call,” Quiones told Reuters on Friday, describing the metaverse experience as “amazing.” On Zoom, she noted, “Many people turn off their cameras, you have no idea what they’re doing,”
The case – brought by a regional transport union against the police – will now proceed partly in the metaverse, potentially including the verdict, Quiones said. She did not rule out metaverse hearings elsewhere.
“This is an academic experiment to show that there it’s possible… but where everyone consents to it, (my court) can continue to do things in the metaverse,” she added.
While legal trials have increasingly moved to video meetings hosted by Zoom and Google, few have experimented with the metaverse, a space that Meta, Microsoft and other tech giants are racing to build.
Early examples of interviews and meetings in the metaverse have been mocked for often-clunky, cartoonish visualizations.
Nonetheless, Colombia’s court proceedings on Feb 15 – streamed to Youtube – went off without too much of a glitch, bar some dizzying camera movement and some distorted movements.
Quiones reiterated the constitutional legitimacy of the virtual tribunal, but acknowledged that the experiment had not been popular, citing 70% disapproval among viewers.
Juan David Gutierrez, a public policy professor at Colombia’s University of Rosario, said use of the metaverse in legal proceedings has a long way to go.
“You need a hardware to do this that very few people have. And that prompts questions about accessibility to justice and equality,” he told Reuters.
Quiones agreed that costs and accessibility needed to be discussed. But she advocated for the metaverse in cases of abuse for example, where participants can share a space without having to physically see each other.
Gutierrez said judges in Colombia were chasing ways to alleviate the country’s overloaded justice system.
“We create this illusion that technology is going to make things more efficient, but sometimes, it’s the opposite.”
(Reporting by Isabel Woodford in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Herbert Villarraga in Bogota; Editing by David Gregorio)