Courts improve hybrid hearings, report shows

For more than a year, the national Center for State Courts (NCSC) collaborated with courts and technology partners to build and evolve a range of virtual and hybrid hearings systems through the Hybrid Hearings Improvement Initiative.

In a report released recently, NCSC shares examples of how courts expanded pre-pandemic virtual and hybrid proceedings or quickly adopted new technology and practices to
accommodate new ways of doing business.

—Moving to hybrid hearings

The report notes that courts are now using remote and hybrid hearings throughout all 50 states in differing degrees for both civil and criminal case types. By definition, a hybrid hearing is one in which at least one participant is attending from the courtroom using the room’s audio/video infrastructure and at least one participant is attending remotely either via videoconferencing platform or phone, using audio, video, or both.

“The Hybrid Hearings Improvement Initiative was a natural extension of NCSC’s work during the pandemic,” said Lindsay Hafford, NCSC project director and principal court management consultant. “Connecting technology partners directly with courts provided an invaluable exchange for all participants as they worked toward the common goal of system improvement.”

—Learning from the Hybrid  Hearings Improvement Initiative

The initiative reached courts in 28 states, two territories and one tribal jurisdiction. The five technology partners—Cisco, Logitech, Speech 2 Data, televic, and Zoom for Government—supported the project with hardware, software, funding, and training.

The report features examples from 14 courts that demonstrate how funding; technology; facilities; staffing; and processes, procedures, and policies are all key to hybrid hearings’ success. Additionally, NCSC offers related resources, strategies, best practices, and guidance for successful virtual and hybrid hearings.

“Our team was thrilled to be able to connect courts with these much-needed resources,” Hafford said. “We intentionally selected a diverse group of courts to participate in the project to help us understand a broader range of challenges and solutions.”

She added that the central theme running throughout the initiative was that courts achieve the best results when they can capitalize on existing systems and processes to achieve a minimum viable product.

—Increasing access to justice

One of the initiative’s pilot sites, the 394th District Court in Brewster County, Texas, faced challenges with sound and audio quality during remote and hybrid court proceedings in its historic 1887 courthouse.

“Like many courts serving low-income communities in sparsely populated areas, we presumed that advanced technology and hardware were beyond our reach,” Judge Roy Ferguson said. “By making hybrid hearings a reality for our courts, this NCSC project enables us to provide higher quality justice for community members who were historically excluded by distance, work, family obligations, or low financial means. We are incredibly grateful for the support and resources provided through this initiative.”

To see an array of hybrid hearing implementations in the full Hybrid Hearings Improvement Initiative Report online, visit