Taking on the courts
Australia’s courts and tribunals rely heavily on a range of technologies in order to function effectively and improve service, efficiency and coordination. The justice system is, of course, a specialised market and it is essential for a commercial installer looking to work in this sector to first have a thorough understanding of how a court works.
According to building services consultancy firm Umow Lai, a similar spectrum of technologies can be found in any courtroom, regardless of the jurisdiction.
“Given the size and acoustic properties of many courtrooms, and the number of people involved in proceedings, all key participants are typically provided with local microphone coverage,” Umow Lai associate director Sean Wooster says.
“The placement and management of sound reinforcement speakers is critical to ensure the amount of acoustic energy within the courtroom is focused toward the intended recipients, and to avoid feedback in the system.
“Also, when urgent information needs to be communicated effectively, the tried and tested public address (PA) system is hard to overlook in such a busy operating environment.”
Under the 2011 version of the Building Code of Australia, assistance for hearing-impaired users must also be provided to all areas where inbuilt amplification systems are being used. This typically takes the form of either an inductive hearing loop system or infrared transmission to individual headsets.
Sean also notes that video conferencing facilities have resulted in easy access to the judicial process. Previously, many court users were disadvantaged through their remote physical location, multicultural background, disability, if they were a victim of a crime or a remote witness, or the fact they may have been in custody.
“The inherent risk of custodial officers responsible for transferring the personin- custody to and from court has been largely eliminated through the use of video conferencing,” Sean says.
“This technology enables court users to access specialist expertise relevant to their case, on a global scale that would have previously been impractical to consider in terms of both timing and cost.”
The widespread adoption of video conferencing in courts has also meant that presentation displays, such as LCD panels or projectors, must be provided to mimic the presence of ‘visual participants’. The video and audio recording of court proceedings is also undertaken in real time, and archived for future retrieval and reference.
“The audio mix from the courts is fed directly to the court reporter (located either in court or remotely), from which they create a near-real time electronic transcript that can be immediately accessed by those in court for review, or authorised court users after the case over the internet.”
Like any installation, the interwoven nature of the technologies needed to deliver the outcomes expected by the courts calls for a certain level of control. Courtroom management systems play a major role in the allocation of courtrooms to daily case lists, as well as integration with digital signage, lighting, HVAC and security. These software solutions also link to smartphones and tablets, allowing for easy authorised access to information online, regardless of the person’s location.
AMX is seen as one of the most reliable brands for control technology in courtrooms across Australia, and is well-known for simplifying complex technology in a space that uses a variety of different media.
“We have worked with courts for over 20 years and historically it’s always been in a control space,” AMX technology director Graham Barrett says.
“In more recent years, we have started to provide systems that incorporate our signal management solutions. We’ve seen more packages in courts with applications like digital signage, IPTV and Video on Demand.”
Touch screen control panels are provided to manage proceedings through the selection of simple, intuitive icons which represent the different modes of operation likely to be required in any court proceeding.
Graham explains the TPI touch panel interface units from AMX allow for the use of a third-party touch screen and other components.
“Pretty much every AMX product you can imagine has gone into courtrooms. This includes our NI integrated controllers for centralised control within the courtroom and our Optima and Enova DGX solutions for signal management,” he says.
“All of this is managed by our resource management or RMS software solutions, which act as an overlay on all of the courtrooms to ensure maximum uptime.”
Given the confidential and sensitive nature of matters under discussion within most courtrooms, careful management is required of not only the acoustic energy, but the wireless spectrum within the court. This ensures that no information is susceptible to eavesdroppers, and the privacy of those within is protected.
To achieve such strict criteria, some design strategies typically adopted in courtroom installations include the exclusion of any RF emitting technologies associated with voice, video or data content.
“The administrators of a courtroom space often put an ‘electronic fence’ around that court to ensure that none of the information can get in or out. The content is also reticulated and distributed through a Standards-based means,” Graham says.
ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LAW
In order to create a solution that meets the needs of the court, the design team (and ultimately, the commercial installer) must keep a number of things in mind.
The pressure to deliver flexible courtroom environments has never been greater, and more often than not a smaller court will need to be easily reconfi gured to cater for the needs of several jurisdictions. This has seen an increasing trend towards fl at fl oor courtrooms within lower level jurisdictions, as opposed to the traditional multi-level design.
“Review the proposed technology solution with the system designer – and preferably end user representatives if possible – to gain a clear understanding of what the client expects, and why certain design decisions have been made. Make sure your on-site delivery team is also fully briefed regarding these issues,” Sean explains.
“Be a proactive part of the delivery team. If you can see opportunities to add real value with either an alternative technical solution, or delivery strategy, speak up. It is far better to have had the discussion at the outset of the project, than realising too late that an opportunity was missed.”
It is also essential to make yourself familiar with the nature of the built environment that you will be integrating your technology into, and raise any concerns you may have based upon your own experience. While the design documentation that you have received should have taken into consideration the impact of specialist joinery, interior finishes, lighting and acoustics, Sean warns that this is not always the case. “You can once again add value, and enhance your company’s reputation in the eyes of both the client and designers by any relevant insights you may have in regard to delivering a successful operating environment,” he says.
“Consider not only the concealment of cabling in such environments, but also the ability to access these cabling pathways again many times over the lifetime of the facility as new technologies are introduced to meet changing needs, and as older equipment is replaced with the next generation. The battle for space is always fiercely contested within the design team, even when developing a new facility from the ground up. This situation only becomes more critical in the event that you are attempting to refurbish an existing building.”
And last but certainly not least… it would be best to make sure that no one on your team has a criminal record.