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Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

Remote court proceedings move into next phase


By Marcia M. Meis, Director, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts

Three years ago - May 2020 - the Illinois Supreme Court was regularly issuing orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the constant changes imposed on our daily lives and to the court system. Our courts quickly learned how to continue operating from outside the courtroom. Zoom and other remote technologies became our daily routine and kept the trains running in the justice system.

At the outset of the pandemic, the Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts quickly put together temporary guidance to assist circuit courts in holding remote hearings. The AOIC issued nearly 200 Zoom licenses to circuit courts around the state to set up virtual courtrooms. In 2021, the AOIC established the Courthouse Technology Modernization Grant Program to provide courthouses the equipment they needed to successfully implement remote hearings.

The benefits of remote hearings – particularly for certain types of court proceedings – were soon clear. The ease of access to the courts fostered fairness in the judicial process and trust in our legal system. Remote court appearances offer significant time and cost savings for litigants, lawyers and witnesses and have been shown to increase appearance rates for individuals that would otherwise avoid going to court given the costs and challenges of travel, childcare and unpaid time off from work. And while Zoom has emerged as the most popular technology for remote hearings in Illinois, survey results show telephone calls come in at No. 2. A poll by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) shows 95% of people own a cell phone and 88% have home internet service.

The Conference of Chief Judges worked together to share what was – and what was not – working for remote proceedings throughout the pandemic. The Illinois Judicial College hosted several webinars to educate judges and staff on remote hearing best practices.

Moving to remote hearings got us through the pandemic - but what about post-pandemic?

On Nov. 30, 2022, the Court announced the answer to this question. With the assistance of the Remote Proceedings Task Force of the Illinois Judicial Conference, Rule 45 was amended and renamed “Remote Appearances in Circuit Court Proceedings.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way our courts operate, and remote proceedings are here to stay. This amended rule provides guidance to our courts and a measure of uniformity across the state,” Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis said at the time.

Among other things, the amended rule delineates:

• Which types of court proceedings must automatically offer case participants the option to appear remotely so that the participant may choose whether to appear in person or by video or phone without requesting approval from the court.

• Which types of court proceedings require approval of the judge presiding over the matter for a remote appearance.

The rule was designed to provide flexibility to the circuit courts in recognition of the fact that some jurisdictions have more advanced technological capabilities than others. It also called for circuit courts to have 90 days to file their local rules with the Administrative Office. A model local rule was created to provide circuit courts with a guide and option to adopt.

The local rules and administrative orders entered by the circuits and links to remote proceedings in the Supreme, Appellate and circuit courts are available in an easy to use chart on the Illinois Courts website at

The Illinois Courts website provides a multitude of resources for operating and attending remote appearances. The Remote Proceedings homepage includes links to the relevant Supreme Court Rules and guides on how to attend Zoom hearings from a computer or smart phone. A handy one-page handout on proper conduct for remote appearances is also available. Additionally, the Illinois Judicial Conference Public Education and Engagement Task Force is producing a Remote Hearings Decorum video that will be available this summer.

Of course, not all court proceedings are easily adapted to remote appearances. The same NCSC poll mentioned earlier found that, while the public preferred to do traffic tickets, small claims, consumer debt and landlord/tenant cases by video or phone, some preferred attending child custody and divorce proceedings in person at a courthouse. The poll also found a generational divide – with a majority of those under 50 favoring remote proceedings and those over 50 favoring in-person proceedings.

Several circuit courts have made remote appearances a success. The 16th Circuit put together a “Guidelines for Virtual Courtroom Proceedings” in May 2020 that served as a template for courts statewide. Chief Judge Cint Hull noted: “The 16th Circuit has embraced the use of Zoom and conducting remote hearing since March of 2019. We offer remote hearings in every one of our divisions and have discovered many benefits in doing so.

In our Abuse and Neglect Courtrooms, remote court has increased the participation rate of the parents of the abused and neglected children. Before remote court, many of these parents could not appear due to the difficulties of getting rides to court. Now, they can and do participate due to the ease of appearing remotely. Their increased participation benefits all involved and assists the court in resolving the case much quicker than before.

In our criminal courts, we have partnered with an interpreter service that allows interpreters to appear remotely to assist the litigants. Remote interpreters allow us to provide increased access to courts to ESL participants while saving the 16th Circuit money since we no longer have to pay for interpreters to travel to and from court.

These are just a few of many examples of the benefits of conducting remote court. With assistance from the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts and the Kane County Board, we are modernizing all of our courtrooms with enhanced technology so we can continue to hold remote proceedings into the future.”

Second Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Melissa Morgan had this to say: “The Second Circuit serves a number of communities with large populations at or below the poverty level. Individuals that can appear remotely are not forced to take off work, secure child care, or obtain transportation to and from court, all of which create additional financial hardships on our court participants. Rule 45 helps alleviate these burdens and increases access to justice to these litigants.

Additionally, the attorneys that reside in our rural, less-populated communities often practice in numerous counties and cover large geographic areas. With Rule 45, these practitioners who at times travel in excess of an hour from courthouse to courthouse, can reduce their travel time and increase their efficiency.

Finally, the Second Circuit includes counties that do not have their own jail facilities. These particular counties detain their defendants in neighboring county jails and bear the costs of transporting those individuals back and forth to court appearances. Permitting in-custody defendants and their attorneys to appear remotely for many proceedings significantly reduces the costs to these counties while increasing safety and security in our courthouses and communities.”

Going forward, our courts will continue efforts to achieve the optimum use of remote proceedings. Why would we ever go backwards to exactly the way things were?