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China's online court heard its first case today

The judge, defendant and plaintiff all met via video chat.
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Xinhua / Weng Xinyang

The Hangzhou Internet Court, a new online court in China that will hear internet-related civil cases, had its first trial today. Today's copyright infringement case was between a novelist and a web company that offered her novel to online subscribers without her permission and everyone met via video chat. The judge and both sets of legal agents connected through the web from different parts of the country and the whole thing took around 30 minutes to conclude.

The whole process from beginning to end is done through the internet. The judge presiding over the cases is stationed in a Hangzhou-based courtroom where members of the public can watch a projection of the video feed. A computer program transcribes the trial. Anyone wanting to submit a case can file all required petitions and necessary documents online where they can also pay any fees. Court notifications are delivered online and anyone without a computer can use terminals made available at the courthouse.

China isn't the only country looking into online hearings. Canada recently launched an online tribunal for small claims disputes and the UK just began an online court pilot program. "The internet court breaks geographic boundaries and greatly saves time in traditional hearings," said Wang Jiangqiao, the online court's vice president.

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