A new way to justice? Multimodal meaning construction in videoconferencing technology-based online criminal courts in China

Ziyu Wang*, Matthew M. Chew

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Abstract

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese state temporarily locked down physical courtrooms and fully relied on online trials based on videoconference technology. This raises the question of how computer-mediated communication affects the realization of justice. This question is particularly significant for criminal cases, where assessing the credibility of evidence, debating between involved actors, and establishing legal identity heavily affect the life-altering sentence. Based on the systemic functional-multimodal discourse analysis (SF-MDA) of a case recording, this study shows that China’s online courts are textually unregulated, with inscribed unbalanced power relations that favor the judge and/or procurator against the defendants. It also finds ineffective ideational meaning-making, the failure to clarify legal jargon and procedures for defendants, and the lack of defense support. These problems illustrate that the current adoption of videoconferencing technology in criminal trials can seriously undermine the court’s constitutionality and legitimacy. Although online courts are a welcome alternative that can help protect public health and avoid delays in the disposal of cases, their currently disorganized implementation, affordabilities, and technical problems compromise justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Semiotics
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Aug 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • Chinese legal system
  • legal discourse
  • multimodality
  • Online court
  • videoconferencing technology

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