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MDTF Activities > DIGITAL JUSTICE SEMINAR - Amsterdam, 31 March 2017

DIGITAL JUSTICE SEMINAR - Amsterdam, 31 March 2017

Digital Justice Seminar was organized by European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ). Aim of this seminar was to identify the role and the position of Councils and / or the judiciaries in the digital age and to serve to assist in identifying the ENCJ Strategy in the field of implementation of IT in the judiciary and as a kick-off of the Digital Justice Project that would continue as an ENCJ project from September 2017.

Biljana Stepanovic, independent advisor at the High Judicial Council (HJC) of Republic of Serbia attended the seminar.  The informal character of this seminar and its four brainstorm sessions and the chance for exchange of experiences in this field, gave her a fresh insight into the organizational aspect of processes within judicial system. This unusual concept also gave her some new ideas that could be discussed in Sectorial Council for ICT in Judiciary of the Republic of Serbia, as well as in the HJC for the purpose of targeting new IT and organizational projects.

The moderator of the seminar was Dory Reiling, senior judge in District Court of Amsterdam, the author and well-known expert for IT in Judiciary.

There were 4 main topics on this seminar:

  1. Access to justice in the digital age
  2. Data collection and big data – opportunities and challenges
  3. IT systems, from supporting the system to being a system and
  4. European e-Justice strategy
Access to Justice in a Digital Age, presentation by Merit Kolvart, Ministry of Justice of Estonia, introduced the concept of court e-file and x-road, which is the service bus for data sharing among the judicial institutions.
According to her, new system that has been established in Estonia is fully digitalized, and court file can be accessed only by person’s ID card. Nevertheless, there is paper copy of every court file, so if the client is not computer literate he can access to the data regularly.

Also the digital way of sharing information among the institutions is established, so there’s no need to fill in the database for every court instance – when it has been filled in, it is in the system so all counterparties can access it. She also pointed at some important issues regarding digitalization of court processes like enabling predefined templates for legal self-help for small claims in civil matters and the ability of the system to act as a person that process the data.

Group discussion ended up with several conclusions:
  • Judicial input is needed in development of IT systems
  • Provisions need to be in place for computer literacy
  • Access to justice can be improved by using templates
  • Implementing IT seems easier in smaller countries than in larger countries
  • Digital is becoming the new normal, faster, easier and cheaper
  • In civil cases developments seems to be more advanced
Second session was on a big data concept.

Big data is interesting because it gives the opportunity to explore the huge amount of data hidden inside the system and to represent the data from the several systems as unique answer. For example, using the HR database for judges and the CMS database of court files, as well as some other resources (like newspaper articles published on the web) we could form a portal on judges which could give several sections of information about one particular judge-one section would be on his education, second on his career, the third on his decisions and the forth on the articles published in the newspaper.

The presentation on this concept was introduced by Bart van der Sloot, Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society. Besides this idea of a portrait of a judge, he presented the idea of the judicial helper, artificial intelligence engine that could browse through the judicial data and analyze them in clever manner. This way, lawyer or a judge could get more time for more important tasks and the trivial tasks would be performed through the system.
Group discussion ended up with several conclusions:
  • Judicial systems should be aware that the usage of big data would lead to some advantages and to some disadvantages. Access to aggregated information for resolving disputes as well as the predictability of the judge’s decision are considered as the advantages, as well as the way for IT to assist judges and to ensure uniformity in decisions. On the other hand, there are matters of privacy that could be endangered, equality of arms as well as the profiling of a judge that could lead to the danger of forum shopping.
  • Ownership or better control of the data should be within the judiciary, but this may not be possible.
  • Data should be made available to the public for free.
  • Role of Councils for the Judiciary is to provide access to those data and discuss organizational issues with Ministry of Justice.
  • There is the need to look in to the role of the Councils for the Judiciary in the publication of judgments.
Third session had the topic on IT systems and the way they changed their role. The presentation “IT systems, from supporting the system to being the system” was introduced by Craig Mc Corkindale, Director of Civil Courts Reform, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
Giving the fact that the digital is the new normal and that every part of our life is already connected to a digital and virtual, judicial systems have to aware of the present moment and to see that the digital era has changed every part of everyday life. Courts are used to use some IT systems, like CMS systems for court files, digital files, safe gateways for data transfer etc. But we have to be aware that at one point, IT system started to change the judicial system.
After group discussion, the conclusions were:
  • It is very important for the system to be user-based and user-friendly. Struggling with the interface makes users less efficient, mistakes are made more often and the system is not in line with its purpose.
  • Judges and judiciary/court staff should be product owners. It is important because the IT system is like a living organism - it evolves and grows in different directions. Only the people that know judicial system enough are able to ensure its growth.
  • - Business continuity plans should be in place in case of system breakdown or in case of blackouts. Multiple data storage would be part of this.
  • When developing IT system, a step by step approach is the best, start small and build upon that, should be the best practice.
  • IT should be developed to improve the process and this should be explained to judiciary and the public. The provision of online public services is an obligation of the State.
  • Online dispute resolution – should this be left to the private sector or should courts offer it?
  • Considering e-evidence: although e-evidence saves time especially in cross border EU and international cases, the group discussion gave some new questions - should the e-evidence always be taken before a judge and could e-evidence be a quality improvement and when.
The forth session had the title European e-Justice strategy, and was introduced by Marc Jorna, Head of Unit, European Commission, DG Justice and Consumers.

This part of seminar had the aim to discuss the idea of connecting different judicial systems within one secured network, so the justice would be equally accessible to all the EU citizens. IT systems defined through European e-Justice Strategy are the basics for the connected system. In 2018 the existing e-justice strategy will expire. A new strategy should define new basis for further cooperation between the Member States.
Group discussion on the policy and strategy issues brought the conclusions on cross border cooperation:
  • everybody agreed that E-codex is the IT solution that will enable cross border judicial cooperation; also, E-Codex should provide contact details for cross border contacts,
  • for securing digital solutions for exchange of information interoperability should be taken into account,
  • usage of IT will make judicial cooperation faster, less expensive and more accurate but there are still obstacles, linguistic and knowledge of the legal systems.
In the matter of the artificial Intelligence, there were also some conclusions:  the Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a tool to extract information, but the final decision should still be made by a judge. Also, there is the question on the role of the Councils in the development and use of AI systems.
After fourth group session and conclusions on the matter of European e-justice strategy presented, the moderator, Dory Reiling, discussed the overall conclusions, whose can be represented in several important questions for further development:
  • Considering the anonymization in the Big data world, is it this still needed if AI system can identify parties and how to prevent this from happening?
  • Would human rights and rule of law be threatened by Big Data systems?
  • User centered approach is essential for well executed IT system
  • Computer literacy should be taken into consideration in developing judicial IT system
  • Is the development the online help for settlement task of judiciary or the state?
  • IT systems redefine procedural issues, is it time to rethink procedural laws?
  • Will IT development ever stop?

E-CODEX, as an important project for European cooperation in judiciary, is certainly something worth of implementing, especially giving the fact that there are several countries that have already been developed systems of safe cooperation via e-communication among judicial institutions. Introducing the concept of judicial templates is also something that helps justice to be accessed from distant location in efficient manner. This concept also brings the idea of the judicial self-help especially for small claims which is good step forward in trans-European cooperation in this field.

Important conclusion of the seminar was also in the domain of information security. Everyone should be aware that the security of information goes with the transparency. The question is when the data is too transparent so it can be abused and where the line should be put. The answer may be in constant learning, for all the counterparties. Along with this issue is the matter of securing the business continuity plan for the system. Multiple data storage would be part of this (in the form of back-up on the location or as independent disaster recovery center). This was something that everybody agreed on - there cannot be too many backups. Participants agreed that the well-defined policy for IT security is the way to ensure stability of the IT system and its accessibility.
The seminar was closed by Nuria Díaz Abad, President of the ENCJ. She suggested that ENCJ should work on the challenges and opportunities in the digital justice, especially quality of Justice and Digital Justice, giving the fact that digital age changes the concept of accessibility. Goal is to increase transparency and to ensure the interoperability of the EU judicial systems via e-Codex through which judiciaries should be connected. It must be taken into account that the security of information and data protection within multi storage solutions are essential for the judicial data to be available and consequently, for the justice to be accessible.