Virtual Reality Technology Applied for the First Time in a China Court Trial

By: Han-Mei Tso

On March 1, 2018, the Beijing First Intermediate People’s Court (the “Beijing First Intermediate Court”) publicly heard a murder case prosecuted by the First Branch of the Beijing People’s Procuratorate (the “First Branch of Beijing Procuratorate”). In this case, the criminal suspect was accused of killing his girlfriend. Because the prosecutor presented evidence using virtual reality technology (“VR”) for the first time in a China court trial, this normal criminal case received extra attention.

In the proofing session of the trial, an eyewitness wearing VR glasses and holding VR handles dictated what happened to people in the court. Meanwhile, a display in the courtroom showed the 3D view of the crime scene corresponding to the perspective of the eyewitness. The eyewitness dictated the facts while moving in the courtroom. The course of the event was thus vividly shown. It was shown that a woman entered the office to seek the eyewitness’s help. The eyewitness tried to dissuade the suspect but failed. Then the suspect took out a knife, stabbed himself a few times, and then stabbed the woman to death.

It was reported that this VR evidence demonstration system was developed by the First Branch of Beijing Procuratorate and a technology company which focuses on deep applications of virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence in the judicial field. After the trial, the prosecutor stated that “the new evidence demonstration system has improved efficiency for the work of proof and made the evidence admission process more transparent, thus enhancing the persuasiveness of the evidences used by prosecutors”. The Beijing First Intermediate Court indicated that using the advanced information technology of the VR demonstration system for facts proof and cross-examination in the trial may help the prosecutor demonstrate evidence in a way that is more visual, comprehensive, and vivid. It also helps defendants and their attorneys effectively exercise the right of cross-examination and defense during the trial. As such, the quality of the trial and judgment can be improved.

Although the VR evidence demonstration system was first applied in a criminal trial, we can easily imagine the potential application of VR in patent-related litigations. For example, in a patent infringement case, large devices or machines that are intended to be used as evidence would unlikely be moved to the courtroom. VR technology may be used to demonstrate such evidence in a courtroom. Additionally, for the cases involving complex technology, such as telecommunications, intelligent driving, drones, or aerospace, etc., VR may be used to demonstrate the application scenarios of the technical solutions and help the judges without technical background to have a better understanding of the patent-in-suit, thus delivering more reasonable decisions. With the advancement and maturity of VR technology, it may not be long before VR demonstration becomes common practice in the courtroom for patent litigation.