How to Start an Online Youth Climate Court

Steps to Set up an Online Youth Climate Court via Zoom:

Can a Youth Climate Court be conducted virtually, using an online platform such as Zoom? Yes. Absolutely.

In 2018, the international judges who served on the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal Session on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change in May of that year, were initially uncertain whether a Tribunal Session could be conducted fully online. By the end of that week-long series of hearings, though, the judges were pleasantly surprised and announced that they now enthusiastically endorsed the online format.

The judges saw the potential of Zoom technology to “overcome the economic constraint of limited resources which impede what should be a permanent, timely exercise of assessing, monitoring, preventing and transforming the universe of violations which occur in the present global scenarios.” They pronounced that the experiment of conducting online hearings had been “a resounding success.” They recognized the online format as “a flexible and powerful tool which could allow the [human rights] struggles of the communities of the world to become more globally and more timely known.”

That week of online Tribunal hearings was the first of its kind anywhere in the world and yet, despite what the judges called “inevitable but instructive” glitches, they saw Zoom’s online format as opening new possibilities for ordinary people to conduct human rights trials wherever they are needed.

Conducting Youth Human Rights Courts online has the same powerful potential. The first interations will be experimental and may present unexpected challenges, but youthful creativity will find creative solutions.

Following are steps to help you get started.

Get together with a couple friends, designate yourselves a Youth Climate Court and start planning a trial.

Decide which government (city? county? state?) you want to put on trial for not adequately protecting young people’s human rights.

Gather interested volunteers to be “officers of the court.” Decide who will serve as the judge, the prosecuting attorney or attorneys, the six to twelve members of the jury, a director and, possibly, someone to liase with the accused government to help them get ready to participate.

Meet with any adults (teachers, community members, parents, etc) who will be asked to help throughout the process, and determine the extent of their involvement and how they will help.

Decide on the date for the trial.

Decide on the approximate length of time you would like the trial to last (90 minutes? two hours? more?) and how much time will be allotted for each portion – prosecutor’s case, witness testimony, questioning of witnesses, defendants’ case, summations by each side, jury deliberations, announcement of the verdict and next steps, etc.

Write a short description of what the Youth Climate Court is and what the trial will entail. This will be the document you can hand to anyone interested in what you are doing, to the media, and especially to members of the government you will put on trial.

Identify one person to be the media organizer. Their job will be to connect with as many local media outlets as possible and invite them to cover the trial. The more media coverage of the trial the more influence your court will have.


Identify another person (or team) to serve as the “Technical Director” to arrange and handle all the audio, video, lighting and other technical components of the online trial.

Identify another person to serve as the trial’s “Director.” The Director’s job will be to make sure that all the steps of the trial are planned out clearly ahead of time, and the Director’s job during the trial will be to make sure that all the transitions from one stage of the trial to the next take place smoothly and as planned. The Director will also be the time-keeper, making sure that each trial stage keeps to its schedule and lasts only as long as planned.

Youth Court officers begin preparing their roles, arguments, outlines, etc, and deciding what witnesses might be called. One advantage of an online trial is that witnesses from anywhere in the state or the country could be asked to participate, and they could do so from their own home. Court officers also begin planning details about how the trial will proceed. Since the Court’s conclusion may require the defendant government to “prepare an adequate Climate Action Plan,” this will also be a good time to think through what the Court will consider adequate for such a plan.

While Youth Court officers are preparing, now will be the time to contact members of the defendant government, explain what you are doing and that the trial will be public, conducted via Zoom, and covered by the media. You will then formally (in writing and at the city council meeting (in person or via Zoom)) issue the government a “summons” to participate in the trial and to assign a representative who will take part in the trial (via Zoom) and who will represent the government’s point of view and explain and defend its interests..

It will be essential to practice everything ahead of time by conducting a mock online court session, maybe for a class or for family and friends, to rehearse arguments and identify potential glitches so they can be fixed prior to the real trial.

On the appointed day for the trial, everyone prepares the location in their home and logs into zoom. It may be a good idea for someone, perhaps the Director, to very briefly introduce the event and explain how the trial will proceed. The judge then formally opens the court session.

During the trial, the judge’s role is to ensure that everything proceeds as planned and in an orderly manner. The prosecutor(s) present their arguments, call their witnesses, and make their case. The defendants (government representatives) do the same. Time is allowed for questioning witnesses.

When the prosecution and defense have completed their presentations, the jury members retire to a private Zoom sub-room to deliberate and decide whether the defendant government should be found guilty of failing to protect citizens’ rights or has done an adequate job of protecting those rights.

If the defendant government is found not guilty, then the Court congratulates them and encourages them to work with other governments to address the climate crisis.

If the defendant government is found guilty of failing to protect those rights, then the Court issues a formal mandate to the government. The mandate could take one of two forms. a) It could require that the government enter into a restorative justice process with the Youth Court in which the Youth Court and the government explore together, with the guidance of a restorative justice facilitator, what the government should do to best restore a sense justice will be done and its human rights obligationswill be met. Since the beginning of the corona viris pandemic, restorative justice practitioners have developed ways for this process to take place very effectively online too via zoom and other social media platforms.

 Or b) it could simply require the government to develop a science-based and human-rights-informed Climate Action Plan and submit it to the Court by a specific date.

The judge then closes the formal court proceedings; the Director announces that the trial has now concluded and then explains what the follow-up steps will be.