On June 21, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantos approved House Bill 121. The new law, which becomes effective on January 1, 2022, allows for remote oath-taking for legal proceedings. Those familiar with the Florida legal system know that for more than a year, remote oath-taking has been a common practice in the state under AOSC20-13. However, that rule is an emergency accommodation for COVID-19 meant to expire when no longer necessary.
The decision to make the law permanent is part of a growing trend to support remote legal proceedings, especially depositions. Here is an explanation of why HB 121 is significant to Florida and the US legal community.
The Critical Role of Oath-Taking
When a witness takes an oath, they are affirming their commitment to telling “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Traditionally, state and federal law dictated that the person administering the oath must be present with the oath-taker. Such a requirement made sense in the pre-digital era, but COVID-19 forced the US to revisit this rule and make changes or face a complete stall of the legal system.
The COVID-19 Push to Virtual Proceedings
In 2020, Florida and many other states issued emergency orders permitting remote oath-taking. The laws require that the person administering the oath see and hear the oath-taker and be able to identify the individual.
In the early days of the pandemic, legislators drafted Florida’s law and many others as temporary solutions to facilitate the unprecedented situation. Courts, and the world in general, looked toward a time when everything would return to “normal.”
Why is the New Law Significant?
The idea that the legal system would revert to its old rules ignored the fact that even before COVID, legislators were making changes that accommodated virtual proceedings and the use of technology in courts and legal processes.
In fact, in late 2019, Florida enacted a law permitting remote notarization. That law went into effect on January 1, 2020, when COVID-19 was just a blip in the news cycle. Other states followed suit as lockdowns inspired the need to facilitate remote depositions and court hearings.
Florida’s emergency remote oath-taking law, AOSC20-13, came with a tentative expiration date. The law would revert to its prior form when the virus no longer posed a significant threat. Now, as the world begins to reopen, remote oath-taking, and remote depositions in general, appear to be here to stay.
The permanent law allowing for remote oath-taking is just one of many indications that we aren’t going back to “normal” and that a stagnant legal atmosphere was only ever an illusion. Remote oath-taking would have come about regardless of the pandemic. The virus just expedited the process and illustrated that making such accommodations is possible and beneficial.
The Post-COVID World is Digital
Statistics from Strategy& of PwC indicate that around 50 percent of depositions will stay remote, regardless of the virus. Remote depositions save significant resources for attorneys and their clients, and lawyers are now accustomed to carrying out these proceedings in a virtual setting. After all, with 90 percent of all depositions being held remotely during lockdowns, the legal community took an unwilling crash-court in technology. All signs indicate that attorneys intend to profit from what they learned last year.
Digital court reporters will benefit from these changes because they are well-suited to handle remote proceedings. As the oath administrators, the new law only further supports these tech-friendly professionals’ ability to grow their practices and expand their client bases. Technology was already poised to alter this industry before COVID gave it a firm push. For anyone who was already embracing digital technology, there is no looking back.
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