Virtual reality could be a powerful tool in the courtroom, experts say. 

In Australian courts, jurors are often asked to piece together a crime from a series of documents and verbal statements - this is no easy feat, especially when a person’s future hangs in the balance.

But with the advent of virtual reality (VR), jurors may have a better chance of making the right decision.

A new study has found strong evidence in favour of using VR in the courtroom, in a test that effectively dropped jurors right in the middle of a car accident or murder scene.

A team of University of South Australia researchers have joined with legal professionals, police and forensic scientists to simulate a hit-and-run scene, reconstructing the events with a laser scanner to compare verdicts between ‘jurors’ using 3D headsets and those relying on photographs from the scene.

The results suggest using interactive technology led to better recall, spatial accuracy and more consistent verdicts in the case of the jurors (30 study participants).

“Virtual reality also required significantly less effort than using photographs to piece together the sequence of events,” says Dr Andrew Cunningham, from UniSA’s Australian Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments.

Study participants viewing the scene through a 3D headset were 9.5 times more likely (86.67 per cent) to choose the same verdict – Death by Dangerous Driving – than the group who relied on photographs, who were split 47/53 per cent between a careless driving verdict and dangerous driving verdict.

“Participants who were immersed in the scene were more likely to correctly remember the location of the car in relation to the victim at the time of the accident, whereas it was difficult for people to visualise the scene from still images,” Dr Cunningham said.

“This provides unequivocal evidence that interactive technology leads to fairer and more consistent verdicts, and indeed could be the future of courtrooms.”

Lead researcher Dr Carolin Reichherzer says site visits are still the gold standard in providing juries with a realistic impression of a scene, but they also have their drawbacks.

“They are expensive – especially in remote locations – and in some cases the site itself has changed, making accurate viewings impossible,” Dr Reichherzer says.

Virtual reality is already making its way into courtrooms internationally, with the most famous example occurring when the Bavarian State criminal office created an interactive scene of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp to aid the prosecution’s case in a war crimes trial.