By: Marialejandra Portal
March 3, 2023
On February 15th of 2023, Colombia’s Magdalena Administrative court made history by holding the first legal trial in the metaverse. The case was a traffic dispute brought by the regional transport union against the police. In the two hour hearing, lawyers and parties put on virtual headsets to participate in the trial where they were represented by avatars that mimicked their actions in the Meta Platforms-owned Horizon Workrooms, and Magistrate Maria Quinones Triana’s avatar was even dressed in black legal robes, with the entire situation virtually mimicking a real-life courtroom. To view the full trial, visit the recording of the live stream on YouTube.
The possibility of holding judicial proceedings in the metaverse has received a wide array of praise and criticism. On one end, critics question the legitimacy of the process. Although Magistrate Quinones reiterated the constitutional legitimacy of this sort of proceeding, it still has widespread unpopularity, with 70% disapproval by viewers of the trial. One viewer expressed their hesitation by stating “I feel it takes away from the seriousness. If I want to see myself in a dinosaur character, is that also acceptable?” Additionally, similarly to the concerns surrounding the use of Zoom for trials, there have been concerns about due process. Especially concerning is the lack of widespread availability of the technology needed to make these metaverse legal proceedings possible. Public policy professor Juan David Gutierrez from the University of Rosario in Colombia said that metaverse legal proceedings require “hardware… that very few people have. And that prompts questions about accessibility to justice and equality.” He also criticized judges for turning to these sorts of technological alternatives in an attempt to solve the problem of an overloaded justice system that, rather than making things more efficient, may have the opposite effect.
On the other side, supporters praise the technology and the benefits it could provide. Magistrate Quinones has been a staunch advocate of continuing to use the platform for legal matters. She called the proceedings which she plans to continue in the metaverse, “an academic experiment to show that… it’s possible.” Especially given the recent push to hold trials on zoom and other video conferencing platforms due to Covid-19, Magistrate Quinones found the metaverse trial an amazing experience that “felt more real than a video call… [during which] many people turn off their cameras, [and] you have no idea what they’re doing.” She claims that “[t]he use of information technology in… judicial proceedings” does in fact alleviate the overload of pending cases by “facilitating and expediting these processes (of executing justice).” She also highlighted how for a number of more sensitive cases, such as abuse cases, these metaverse trials would make it so participants can share a space without having to see each other physically. Furthermore, “digital justice” could still be served while saving participants from possibly inconvenient travel or disruptions to their daily routines.
While Colombia may be the first country to hold judicial proceedings in the metaverse, is not the first to experiment with government in the metaverse. On August 12th of 2021, the establishment of the world’s first Metaverse Embassy was approved by the Government of Barbados’ Cabinet. Barbados’ decision to open an embassy in the metaverse in no way limits their operations in the physical world, but rather aims to pioneer the evolution of global diplomacy and serve to strengthen relationships with governments globally. As Covid disrupted diplomatic channels, Barbados found a way to go forward with their rebrand as a “world hub for digital transformation and technology innovation.” Given the advanced technology of the nations with which Barbados aims to foster relationships with their digital approach is key to their interactions. The platform will serve as a forum for Barbados to work with their traditional partners and establish new relationships and “deepen engagement in the diplomatic arena; the investment, business, tourism and cultural sectors; and people-to-people interaction.” Barbados also aims to assist other nations in establishing their own embassies and engaging in “meta-diplomacy.”
Investing even further in the metaverse is the nation of Tuvalu, which plans to create a digital version of itself in the metaverse to account for a “worst case scenario” given climate change and rising sea levels. Government officials posit that the “digital twin” of the nation would allow Tuvalu to remain a sovereign state even if the nation were to find itself under water and its residents scattered around the world. The existence of a nation existing solely in the metaverse poses a number of questions including: Can it be done? Will the nation truly be sovereign? Is it an attempt to raise awareness about climate change? Are these true solutions to the world’s problems?
It is evident that as the metaverse develops, countries are turning to the platform to broaden their reach and the possibilities. Whether it be to offer an alternative forum for judicial proceedings, further diplomatic relations, or provide an escape from the harsh realities of climate change that may lead to the dissolution of a nation, the metaverse offers governments a burgeoning option to explore and develop.