As the global Web3 ecosystem continued to evolve at a staggering pace, so have the various use cases associated with this niche. In a striking new development, a high-ranking Singaporean government minister recently noted that legal marriage proceedings, court case disputes, and government services could one day be conducted using Metaverse platforms.
While delivering a keynote address at Singapore’s TechLaw Fest 2022 late last month, the country’s second minister for law, Edwin Tong, was quoted as saying that he would not be surprised if, in the future, intimate events such as the solemnization of marriages as well as legal disputes “could take place within the Metaverse,” adding:
“It would not be unthinkable that, besides registration of marriages, other government services can soon be accessed online via the Metaverse. There’s no reason why the same cannot be done for legal services. The pandemic has already shown us that even dispute resolution — once seen to be a physical, high-touch process […] can be held online.”
Expounding on his stance, Tong used a hypothetical example of a dispute involving an accident on a construction site, which he believes could be viewed in a 3D environment using augmented reality technology, thus allowing for a better reimagining of the accident. “You can put yourself into the actual tunnel or the oil containment facility to look at the dispute,” he added.
A hybrid outlook such as this, Tong believes, could make the dispute resolution process extremely convenient and efficient for governments across the planet.
Could digital legal proceedings become the norm?
According to Joseph Collement, general counsel for cryptocurrency exchange and wallet developer Bitcoin.com, dematerializing government services that require in-person attendance is the next, most coherent step for nations across the globe, especially as the world shifts from an analogous age to a digital one in this post-covid era. He added:
“Nowadays, approximately one-third of legal agreements worldwide are signed electronically. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to see modern nations such as Singapore adopt all-inclusive technologies like the Metaverse for government services. The same thinking should apply to certain civil court cases, which are still subject to extreme delays due to backlogs. While justice is delayed, the involved parties often have to suffer.”
A similar view is shared by Alexander Firsov, chief Web3.0 officer for Sensorium — an A.I.-driven Metaverse platform. He told that as a space dedicated to bridging the gap between the real world and digital experiences, it’s only logical that the Metaverse will one day transform into a medium where legal proceedings can take place.
In his view, by adopting immersive technologies, virtual legal proceedings won’t feel much different from real-life events. In fact, he believes the use of photorealistic avatars can bring a degree of humanization and presence that online meetings fail to meet. Lastly, Firsov noted that justice systems all over the world are notoriously slow, costly and the Metaverse can help address these inefficiencies, adding:
“The Metaverse can have a positive impact when it comes to the work of law enforcement agencies and other legal entities on issues such as cooperation, record keeping, and data transmission, as it holds the ability to improve important processes through the use of emerging technologies such as blockchain.”
Not everyone is sold on the idea
Dimitry Mihaylov, A.I. scientist, UN expert contractor and associate professor at the National University of Singapore, told that the first problem when talking about digitally facilitated legal proceedings is that of intellectual property (IP) based legislation — since geographical borders do not factor into proceedings taking place in the Metaverse, least as of yet. He explained:
“When you get a patent, it’s valid only within a particular territory. Yet, with the Metaverse, it will be used by people worldwide. People can accidentally violate laws by using a patent in the Metaverse that is outside its area of legalization. Here’s where relevant authorities need to determine who owns the IP and under which court’s jurisdiction it falls.”
The second issue, in his opinion, pertains to data collection and ownership. This is because mainstream tech conglomerates have for the longest time been abusing the data of their clients and, therefore, it will be important that regulations pertaining to the storing and use of legal data on the Metaverse are developed before any court proceedings can take place on it.
Collement believes a physical courtroom presents features that cannot be replicated in the Metaverse. For example, the cross-examination of a witness in front of a jury to attack his credibility is an important strategy in certain cases. Even with advanced video-conferencing, some important cues and details from a witness examination can be missed by the jury. He added:
“It is unclear to me that the Metaverse is ready to host trials. Uncertainty remains as to the enforceability of Metaverse-held judgments in countries that are a member of the Hague Convention but who have not yet issued any guidance or laws in regard to these virtual proceedings.”
Furthermore, Mihaylov noted that the question of copyright is quite pertinent in this regard since it protects digital works across many countries. He explained that nowadays, companies like Google are extremely swift with their copyright actions and block any sites that infringe on their rights. “Copyright covers more than 100 countries, and it’s very close to the model that the Metaverse should use. But it has no applications yet, and no such precedents have arisen so far,” he added.
Are the masses willing to accept court proceedings on the Metaverse?
Mattan Erder, associate general counsel for public blockchain infrastructure provider Orbs, told that as things stand, it is actually a question of whether people are truly willing to believe the outcome of what occurs on the Metaverse as being real, especially from a legal perspective. In his view, most individuals are quite detached from a reality where they can ever see trials deciding the future of an individual, adding:
“I think we have some time before these things become real. However, the more people live their lives in the Metaverse, the closer we will get to a mental shift. There are a variety of elements that need more development before it will be really possible to have these types of core social institutions exist there.”
In Erder’s opinion, the situation being discussed here is one that is usually dealt with by governments almost exclusively. Therefore, it makes sense for the masses not to get ahead of themselves in thinking that any of these changes are going to come in the near term. He believes that legal systems have a clear preference when it comes to wanting the physical presence of all those involved in a trial, adding:
“Most people have the belief that being in the same room with someone, such as a witness, and looking them in the eyes, seeing their mannerisms, etc., is important in evaluating their credibility. Democracies grant defendants the right to directly confront the witnesses and the evidence against them, and litigants have the right to confront each other and the judge/jury.”
Lastly, a key driver when it comes to people and governments getting onboard with Metaverse-based legal proceedings and marriages is their definition of reality. To this point, Erder thinks that as the Metaverse becomes an integral part of people’s lives, the things that happen there will start to matter to people. “The Metaverse will become a microcosm of human society where there will be a natural need for things like dispute resolution,” he concluded.
The future looks “Metaverse ready”
Similarly, quite recently, the South Korean government announced that it had been actively taking steps to bolster its Metaverse ambitions by setting aside $177 million from its coffers. The country is looking to devise a platform for its citizens that grants access to a wide array of government services in a completely digital fashion.
Back in July, Metaverse infrastructure company Condense closed a seed funding round to continue the development of a 3D live streaming technology. The technology underlying the firm’s digital offering utilizes “cutting-edge computer vision, machine learning and proprietary streaming infrastructure to capture and embed a live 3D video (Video 3.0).” In the near term, the firm hopes to stream this unique live video experience into various Metaverse games and mobile applications, as well as other platforms that have been created using Unity or the Unreal Engine.
Earlier this year, Metaverse platform Decentraland laid claim to the distinguished honor of hosting the world’s first wedding on the Metaverse, with the event being attended by a total of over 2,000 guests. The proceedings were administered and solemnized by the law firm Rose Law Group.