Monday, July 02, 2018

Artificial Intelligence

In March 2018, the Justice and Security Commission of the Netherlands Parliament Second Chamber held a round table on artificial intelligence in the justice domain. Here is the summary of my speaking notes, on AI and courts. The original was, of course, in Dutch. This English version I wrote for the session on Artificial Intelligence by the Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) session on June 27 2018 in Strasbourg.

AI for courts, in brief (this is the summary)
What use can artificial intelligence (AI) have for courts, and what does that take? In court cases, judges reduce complexity, but all court work is by no means complex, bespoke work. Courts do not process all cases in the same way, and consequently, they need information technology suited to the different ways. Therefore, AI can be useful for different types of courts cases in different ways. Some forms of AI have already proven themselves in practice. But will robots replace judges, as some people have been claiming for more than twenty years? There is still no evidence to support it. Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights prescribes fair procedure. It will take a lot of work to make AI conform to that standard. Legal information needs to be structured and given meaning, in order to make the information not only readable, but also actionable, including decision making. Providing an explanation is, in the foreseeable future, not yet feasible for AI. AI can help people looking for information, parties in a case and judges with structuring information, and if legal information is enriched, also with advice and suggestions.  read the full note here

Monday, March 19, 2018

Court IT: we must, we can, but it’s not easy

A while ago, a judicial colleague published a column in one of the Dutch online papers. My colleague pointed to rising cost and longer duration of the digitalization of the courts. The digitalization was done in the Quality and Innovation Program. In Dutch the program is called Kwaliteit en Innovatie (KEI). The courts are, apparently, held ransom by the vendors. I reacted to his column in my monthly blog for one of the Dutch legal magazines. My blog went viral. Reason enough to give it some wider circulation by including it in here, in my Technology for Justice blog. For those of you who read Dutch: here is the original.

My question: if digitalizing turns out to be more difficult than expected, should we give it up?

Dear colleague,
Should I react to your column entitled “IT-vendors hold judiciary in a tight grip”? I wondered if I should.  Then, I read an earlier interview in which you wanted to abolish the redrawing of the judicial map, as well as the Council for the Judiciary. Fortunately, we judges enjoy freedom of speech. I am not going to debate the merits of your viewpoints. I had already decided not to publish this blog. But then, my IT team asked to please publish after all. The negative publicity made them very uncomfortable. So, therefore, I use this opportunity to list a few facts.

The parliamentary hearings on government IT-projects have made clear that an IT project can be considered a failure when the software that was developed is not implemented. Delay of rising costs are, in themselves, not a reason to consider a project a failure.
The first KEI-systems went into operation in 2015. Since April 2015, the system handled more than 20.000 asylum cases. Users in the courts are very happy with the system. Hearing planning is now a matter of hours instead of weeks. Since November 2015, bankruptcy supervisors can communicate with the courts in all types of bankruptcies. Well over 80% of bankruptcies are now handled this way. Professional supervisors have started to communicate digitally with all the courts in November 2017. Since September 2016, more than 650 (over 900 by mid-March, DR) commercial claims were filed with the new system, in two pilot courts. A few during a voluntary test phase, but most in the current compulsory filing pilot phase. Some cases have already been completed. One case, with a full hearing, was concluded within 7 weeks from filing. Users are not entirely happy with the system yet, and therefore the system has not been rolled out to all courts. That will happen later in 2018. So, the KEI software has been in use for a couple of years. 

The Council of State, in its 2014 advisory on the digitalization legislation, pointed out the risk of innovating procedure and digitalizing in a single operation. The Council also pointed out that earlier suggestions to drop the distinction between claims and requests and handle all cases on the basis of a request, were not followed, and that this complicates the digitalization.  De legislator did not follow this advisory. This has made designing the civil digital procedure more complex, hence more expensive than expected. There were a few other things that could not be foreseen in 2014. For example, article 113 of the Code of Civil Procedure that was added in a later phase of the legislative process. This article upended the design that we had already made and built, and sent us back to the drawing board. As a consequence,  we could only give lawyers access to the new systems, and no one else.
Digitalization needs to be kept simple. That is not a new insight. The Netherlands Accounting Chamber investigated government IT projects at the request of Parliament. The Chamber reported extensively in 2007. The dynamic of politics makes government IT-projects complex. Look at the Tax Office. That took a long time, but by now we all file our taxes on line.
Suppose: we know we have to keep things simple, but from the Accounting Chamber’s reports it is clear that complications will arise anyway. What do we do? Forget about digitalization? I cannot speak for the legislator or the Council for the Judiciary, but I can speak for myself, as the product owner of the civil procedure. I felt we should go ahead, and seize this opportunity that might not arise again for the next ten years. With every decision, we tried to apply the simplicity rule: can we make it simpler, is it necessary at all? It turned out we could not always do that. Legislation, the environment of bailiffs and lawyers, requirements and wishes from the users in the courts, technology itself, security needs, and a host of other factors kept us from applying the simplicity rule consistently. But some procedures have been digitalized, and they work. Civil procedural legislation changed so much that the courts need to put a lot of effort into implementation, and that is another reason why the new system has not been rolled out to all courts yet.

Dear colleague, we judges are the guardians of the existing legal order. Our work is looking back and deciding who need to get the blame for what went wrong. There is nothing wrong with that. But looking ahead and envisioning how to innovate does not come naturally to us. So, court innovation is difficult. If we are afraid to be blamed if something goes wrong, we will avoid innovation. Blaming in retrospect will not help innovation. But it must be done, because we are losing our market share to digital alternatives, and we do not do enough to give ordinary people access to justice.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

CTC2017 Day 3

On Day 3, I attended prof. Fred Lederer's wide-ranging and very interesting talk on legal aspects of Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. This summary of what I think were the highlights will not do it justice.
As algorithms are becoming such a determining factor, there was a suggestion to treat algorithms like corporations. 
The essence of data analytics is that we will find things we did not know were there. 
Good source for the Internet of Things: article by  Maciej Kranz in Harvard Business Review. 
Will existing law answer issues posed by the new technology? What is the "right" answer for the society involved?
What if the police want to pull over an autonomous self- driving car for speeding, while the human inside the car is not driving it? As a judge - professors are good at framing questioins, but judges need to answer them - my first question is: can a self-driving car speed? Or is it designed to obey all traffic rules including speed limits? I would say yes. 
And what about someone who hacks a self-driving car in order to cause an accident with it? Again, there is an unanswered quesstion behind this one: what constitutes the crime? Hacking? Causing the accident?
Pretrial detention algorithms are being used by judges more and more. It is also found to be problematic, for instance biased against African American defendants. My observation is that we know very little about the causality of the factors involved in recidivism. 

In the conference's Endnote, all big themes were addressed: 
What comes after digitization?
Artificial intelligence
Designing for the user
User testing for innovation - jury service on their phone
Translation technology
Agility, allowing for failure
Organizational ITmaturity
Next generatioin apps 
Cloud computing and surviving thehurricane. In one of the courts, justice never stopped in spite of the storm. 

New data uses - e-notifcations reduced Failure to Appear by 50-20%.

CTC2017 Day 2

Fro me, Day 2 was dedicated to innovative stuff for access to justice.
MJ Cartwright showed me a phone app that helps people deal with traffic violations, including the trial if it needs to come to that. Over lunch, I listened to the problems of a CIO from the Midwest, who felt there was so much that had to be done, although their systems were much better than people expected of the Midwest. And I had a wonderful conversation with Margaret Hagan, director of the Design Lab of the Stanford Law School. More about Margaret later. 

In the afternoon, I participated in a workshop on improving the user experience - lessons from law schools and innovation labs. 
NULawLab's Dan Jackson explained their approach. They developed RePresent, a game to teach people how to represent themselves. Their latest product is a game called Angry Tenants. 
Margaret Hagan introduced the 4 core strategies for improving the user experience: 
Conversational Artificial intelligence
Visual models
Coordinating services in the local community
An example of an AI tool: you talk about your crummy landlord on Twitter, and our AI can then send you an advice to go to your local service center for advice. Would that work? Or does that go too far?
Visual models - how effective are they? Different visual models work for different people. 
Christopher Griffin A2J Lab Harvard explained how they do randomized trial testing to test for effectiveness, for instance of tools like self-help materials, court user notices. In the case of court user notices, the default rate dropped by half after the text had been improved.
Another example was triageing lawyers for cases where they are going to make a difference. 

The rest of the afternoon we spent doing a design sprint in 1 hour. Usually, design sprints will take longer than that. It was a fun exercise, and people came up with very innovative solutions. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

CTC2017 day one

 CTC2017 is under way in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is my 10th Court Technology Conference. What will I take away from this one?
The opening keynote, by Mark Lanterman, Chief Technology Officer at Computer Forensic Services, took us on live a tour of the Dark Web. Where to buy drugs, guns, stolen credit cards and personal information. Very interesting, somewhat gloomy start to the conference.

Next, the Utah courts, on the home turf, presented their plans for user centered case management. Workgroups in the courts listed what they wanted in improvements from the system. One example: the judicial workspace, a hearing based interface. Judges use it on the bench, it gives them access to the electronic case file and digitally sign orders. Cases can be linked automatically using a person's State Identity Number. MyCase is the interface for the court users. It is designed for the smart phone. An ODR negotiating tool is still in the design stage. Users can subscribe to notifications by email or sms messaging.3rd party interfaces to other government agencies are still in the planning stage. 

I managed to catch the tail end of Digital Design for the User Experience, by Shannon Salter and Margaret Hagan. Shannon is the Chair of the British Columbia Civil Resolutions Tribunal in Canada. Margaret Hagan directs the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School. User testing is key: to find testers, you will want to show up where people are already at. Test with the people you are designing for. It is a lot of work to find testers who are not part of the system, but you really need them. Second lesson: it is better to test on a small scale than not at all. Sorry I could not make it to the talk from the start.

David Harvey, Director of the New Zealand Centre for ICT law at the University of Auckland, presented the UK plan for the online courts. It aims to use technology in a disruptive but transformative way, and not mirror existing processes. The universal values of justice need to be observed. I already blogged about this plan in March 2015. Scroll down and you will find it. It will be interesting to see how this ambitious plan is going to materialize.

Singapore Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS)
This is an ambitious plan that has already materialized. It was introduced in May 2017. CJTS includes a prefiling assessment to ascertain how the problem can be resolved, and whether it needs to go to courts. Filing including choice of hearing date. The overall design of the procedure is similar to what we in the Netherlands have done for our digital procedures. The claiming party needs to use their Singpass for individuals, Compass for companies, or a CJTS pass for those who have neither. The responding party can choose negotiations, but only up to the hearing date. That gives the negotiation stage some effectiveness. And if negotiations result in an agreement to pay, the parties can apply for a consent order of tribunal.
Singapore is now testing online dispute resolution. They have studied working with artifical intelligence, those papers are on line at the courts web site.
Until now, respondents are not using the system much. The Singapore courts believe this may be because they are not yet familiar with the system.
Good idea I picked up here: the hearing officer, who ensures parties are ready for the hearing before they enter the courtroom. Staff whose work was taken over by the system are retrained for new tasks. 
At the end of a long day, this was a nice surprise: something that is very concrete and actually already works. I look forward to learning more about the effects of this innovative procedure. 

Friday, June 03, 2016


ODR 2016 showed they were taking digitalization seriously, with digital entry tickets and the conference program in a smartphone app. The 15th ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) Conference was held on May 23 and 24th in The Hague in the beautiful conference hall of the Peace Palace. There is a lot of experimenting going on ODR and there are lessons to be learned from those experiments. And because this time the meeting was in the Netherlands, it provided the Netherlands Justice sector with a great opportunity to show what we are doing: what has been realized, what we're working on, and our plans for the future. People were impressed: one participant exclaimed:”I have seen the future, and it is in Dutch!” Here a small collection of my souvenirs from the conference.

Rechtwijzer 2.0
This web site, Rechtwijzer uit elkaar, helps couples wanting to separate make a plan for the divorce and then also arrange for it. Until now, about 250 couples have done so in actual practice. User surveys show that they are satisfied. There is extensive interaction with users to further improve its effectiveness. This tool was developed by HiiL Innovating Justice and Modria dispute resolution systems and the Netherlands Legal Aid Board.  

DemanderJustice: the Uber of the legal world
DemanderJustice (DJ) is a French site where for about €40 people can try to settle a dispute. If this is unsuccessful, it supports bringing the case before a judge for another €70. This works for cases under €10,000, which can be brought to court without a lawyer. At the time of writing, the site had handled more than 250,000 cases. About half were settled; the claiming party won in more than 80% of the cases that were taken to court. The French Bar filed a complaint against DJ for unauthorized exercise of a protected profession. DJ was acquitted of the criminal charge in two instances; the complaints still continue.

Quality and Innovation: Tomorrow’s Judges
KEI  is the acronym for the Dutch courts’ Quality and Innovation program. Working digitally by itself is not enough: it requires a different kind of judge. Tomorrow’s judges will direct cases more actively. The judiciary must become more accessible and more understandable. Supervising judges, in charge of bankruptcy and guardianships, have large amounts of information at their disposal, so they are better able to act on the patterns they discern.

Digital proceedings: learning from experience
Experience with court digitalization, for instance with the eKantonrechter, has produced a lot of questions which are important for the further development of online dispute resolution. By far the most important question is how to involve the defending party in the procedure. Resolving a dispute amicably is often unsuccessful; the claiming party has no choice but to take the case to court. Digital access for the defending party turns out to be a difficult problem everywhere in Europe because digital IDs are not yet good enough to ascertain who enters the court portal and gets access to the case file.

Another question is, how courts can be better geared to the problems they were set up to resolve. 10 years ago, the legal viewpoint was that if someone had a problem, they would take it to a lawyer, and the lawyer would take it to court for you. That viewpoint was wrong. We now know a lot more about what people do they when they have a problem. Solving a problem may well look more like a network or a cloud than a linear chain of events. What does that mean for the administration of justice as a problem solver? And what to do with this observation from a legal aid insurer: our customers want to be more actively involved in the procedure. They are well-informed, the Internet provides them with oil the information they need and they want to be in control of what happens in the case.
I expect there will be more and more people who represent themselves in court; because they are better able to or because they cannot afford legal aid. The Dutch courts will start working on this issue very shortly.

Competition, consecutive or integration?
Participants in the conference could vote about the relationship between ODR and court procedures: Should they compete to improve quality, should ODR be limited to pretrial situations, or should ODR and court procedures be fully integrated? At the end of the conference participants overwhelmingly voted for complete integration. I think this shows we have managed to convince the participants that courts can actually realize digital proceedings.

Experience, rather than plans
The difficulty about things like online dispute resolution is that only users can see how they work. There are logins, and usually a fee to be paid. I had hoped to see a lot of online dispute resolution in actioin gecause I would like to learn to better gear our digital court procedurres to effective ODR. The conference had a series of five-minute pitches, some of which showed their product, but most did not. For the rest, speakers presented a lot of plans. Her Majesty's Online Court (HMOC), part of a large four-year plan in the UK, attracted a lot of attention. I blogged about it last year. Granted, for innovation one needs a plan. However, experience with plans show they almost never realize what they promise. And although they may have some partial results, in the planning phase there are few lessons to be learned from them. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

CTC2015 Day 3

CTC's Day 3 brought the last installment in the track on tools for 21st century judges, but it was actualy about something else. The number of cases in the civil courts is going down, ODR numbers are growing. The US courts have thought about this, and come up with a report on possible solutions. And since technology affects everything, there is a lot of technology in the report.

The panel members were all asked to present their perspective, and prioritize the technology that they felt was most important. For the judge on the panel, it was case management; her insight was that case management is not document management, but actually bringing cases forward. Cases may not all be the same but they are like snowflakes: they are all white, and if there are a lot of them you need to get out of the way, they're just snow.
Push notifications were the favorite of the court manager. The courts CIO's priority was in litigation platforms. His point: courts need to become more user-centric. He referred to the Rechtwijzer 2.0, a site developed by the Dutch Legal Aid Board for couples who want to arrange their own divorce, which he found really cool.
For me, one key question remains: what is the reform going to achieve? Are the courts going to try and retain the segment of cases that is now increasingly handled by private ODR? Will they decide that the courts' core business is resolving disputes that do not have a predictable outcome, as Stephen Breyer, justice in the US Supreme Court once said?

In the endnote, the presenters observed how more and more judges are getting involved. Because my focus was on tools for 21st century judges, I had to miss out on a lot of interesting stuff, like social media and how courts use them and - my other favorite - access to justice. Fortunately, most of the presentations are on line, and sessions were streamed as well, all to be found on NCSC, with their limited means, have put together a very interesting, and for the courts, challenging conference. I look forward to CTC2017 in Salt Lake City. 

Day 2: apps, online forms and more judicial tools

Day 2 started with the Midnote. Tara Thomas talked about a lot of apps and their pros and cons. Apps for time saving, for project management, for calendars, conference calls, information sharing, cloud storage of documents. Members of the audience shared their experience with using some of them.
Collin County in Texas shared their own experience in going more paperless. Great insight: electronic document means no more copies, it is always the original. Court staff learned that putting two copies of a document in an electronic case file is unnecessary. 
Williamson County Court judge Bill Gravell explained how they use online forms for self-representing litigants to file their case. The court went from processing 45-50 cases per day to 100, handling time was reduced from 20 minutes to 10 minutes, and instead of 2 jury trials in a day they could now handle jury trials. As cases came to trial faster, defendants chose more often to plead guilty, and the court could drop the jury trial. Bill then introduced me to the people at Tyler Technologies who developed the forms. Tyler actually developed an engine that courts can use to generate their own forms, since they all have different requirements. The engine is a really useful tool. After lunch, I turned my attention to judicial tools again. Three IT staff from Missouri, Wisconsin and Utah shared their experience on developing tools for judges. They had all developed screens with panels presenting different kinds of information: a calendar, pending tasks, quick links to research tools and to Word. Wisconsin gave the judges a private, confidential view of their own statistics: cases pending, cases resolved, that sort of thing. At first, some judges did not want to see it and asked the IT staff to take the panel away. It stayed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

CTC2015 opened on Tuesday morning with a keynote by Mark Britton, CEO of AVVO a platform for legal advice and services. His job was to shake the audience out of any complacency they may have had: the customers are dissatisfied, they are finding other ways to resolve their disputes, your monopoly is not going to help.
The image projected by the movie The Net is that of fear of having personal information on the Internet making you vulnerable to terrorist who want to use it to kill you. 
With Japanese cars and transistor radios for an analogy, he showed how technology disrupts from the consumer up: a new product, for new consumer market: Modria, building an ADR platform, document assembly services like legalzoom; how non-profit legal services are a viable possibility.
Note from the audience: Modria also built a support web site for couples wanting to have an amicable divorce for the Dutch Legal Aid Board.

The Judicial Tools Maturity Model was, for me, the most interesting finding of Day 1. It shows how a court or a judge can grow from paper-based to basic, then to intermediate to an advanced level of IT use. I expect we can use it to test all following presentations on tools for the 21st century judge by their maturity level in the model. From what I saw, the Minnesota courts are moving up in the charts, and the Missouri courts are doing it much more slowly.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

CTC 2015, Minneapolis, Sept 22-24

The 2015 Court Technology Conference is about to start, on Tuesday, September 22. The venue this year is Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States. This blog is the first of my usual CTC blogs for this year. Keep watching this space for more every conference day. This time, my interest in court technology is even more urgent than in past years. As the product owner of the Netherlands' courts digitalization of the civil procedure, I am acutely aware how difficult developing court IT is. So, I look towards US courts for experience on developing court IT.

Tools for 21st century judges 
The educational track on tools for 21st century judges caught my eye right away. It promises to explore technology tools that can assist judges in making the transition from paper case files to an electronic bench. This transition is very complex as well as critical to maintaining court performance.

Access to justice
Next, I'm always interested in access to justice. As my colleague Martin Gonzales warned repeatedly at CTC2013, more and more people are forced to represent themselves for lack of legal aid. So how can e-filing help self-representing litigants? What other examples do US courts have?

Keynote on Innovation 
The first keynote will address the Innovation Imperative. Mark Britton, founder and CEO of the world's largest community for legal guidance and services, will address innovation. Courts' primary role is to guard the existing legal order. This makes innovation a particular challenge for courts. This keynote opens the conference on Tuesday morning. The keynotes and a lot of other sessions will be streamed live.
Click here for the program: 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Flying can be risky
In the last week of August 2015, The European Study Group on Pubic Administration (EGPA) met in Toulouse, France. Eighteen study groups exchange their latest research every year. I presented in the Justice and Court Administration group. Over three days, more than fifteen speakers treated us to a variety of research findings. Amazing, all the things one can research. Some highlights.

Two interesting contributions from Ukraine, both from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Fair Justice project. Olga Nikolaieva presented her research on improving alternative dispute resolution in commercial disputes. Sergii Suchenko described how a system for measuring judges ‘workload is being developed, in order to distribute resources better and also to evaluate judges‘ performance.
Sylwia Moravska (Gdansk, Poland) told us how she tries to make court staff treat court users more courteously. She found it hard to answer questions about the goal of her attempt.
Knowledge sharing
Knowledge sharing was a hot topic. Jose Ferretti from Brasilia, Brazil gave a presentation that made most of us think: I don’t get it, but I sense he is on to something he cannot yet express in words. That was no knowledge sharing just yet. Sandra Taal from the Netherlands had used her data from other research to test if there are relevant differences in the way men and women share knowledge. There is, but the explanation is rather in women’s more social behavior.

In Switzerland there is some surprising, interesting research.  For instance into the emerging paralegals/legal support staff hire to keep on top of a growing work load. Does it lead to paralegal-justice without access to a judge? Another example: Courts in Switzerland are usually quite small, and they need to deal with different stakeholders, both inside and outside the courts. I had never really thought about this but come to think of it, I recognized some similarities. And then there was the research about regional differences, though to be really large in Switzerland, with all those cantons, languages and cultures. The configurations were different than expected. This research originated because the courts would not participate in it. And now it has been done, they do not want it published.

Finally: Netherlands
in the Netherlands, there is also some interesting research going on. Jos Hoevenaars (Nijmegen) presented his PhD research into the use of the preliminary reference procedure in immigration law. It could produce case law, but it is expensive and it takes a long time. Kars de Graaf and Bert Marseille (Groningen) tested the reasoning behind a proposed law to restructure the system of administrative courts of appeal in the Netherlands. Frans van Dijk, director of the Netherlands Judicial Council, presented a survey by the European Network of Judicial Councils into the perception of judges and citizens of the independence of courts and judges. Independence is perceived most in Denmark, but otherwise, results vary considerably. The image of – for instance – the courts in Poland is very poor.  This survey has produces a lot of data that can keep researchers busy for years to come. The data are open, and so is the report. Finally, I presented the way the courts in the Netherlands attempt to apply lessons from earlier IT-projects in Europe. The key is to manage complexity in all domains by keeping everything as simple as possible. I expect our lessons can be of use to other countries. More knowledge sharing.

Flying can be risky
There were seventeen other study groups. Virtually all those who research public administration in the Netherlands flew back on the same flight. Quite a risk for public administration in the Netherlands.  

Sunday, March 01, 2015

As courts go digital: what about online dispute resolution?

Your technology is fifteen years old, a member of the Bar said to me recently, implying we were way behind the times with the technology the Dutch judiciary uses to build its digital procedures. Even if that is right (which it isn’t), that would be a great leap forward from our current systems dating from the 1980s. And yet, he had a point. The new procedure is simpler, but it still looks a lot like the old paper process. A lot of what we do still is a digital version of our paper process. The evolution of the Google car shows we need to develop one step at a time. Moving from a paper based organisation to online dispute resolution, or to an information-based organisation, involves learning to work with new technology. However, we also need to think about what comes after this step. This blog tackles one of the - for traditional courts - most disruptive technologies around: online dispute resolution (ODR).  
As the Dutch judiciary is going digital, the question arises whether this should also include ODR, and whether ODR can replace a face to face hearing in court. Are Skype and FaceTime capable of supporting a debate about the merits of facts and rules, and are people familiar enough with remote communication to grasp new ideas remotely? Or will ODR be suitable for simple disputes only?  
ODR is in the spotlight. In February 2015, the ODR Advisory Group of the Civil Justice Council in the United Kingdom presented Online Dispute Resolution for low value civil claims. Presided by Richard Susskind, the Group examines the field of ODR and makes recommendations for ODR in the legal system of the UK. The report is supported with a wonderful web site  full of background documents, video’s and interviews.  
The system, Her Majesty’s Online Court (HMOC), has two main goals: reduce the cost of dispute resolution and increasing access to justice. Whether or not these two goals are mutually exclusive has been a subject for heated debate for years.
HMOC’s scope will be disputes that are not too complex, and with a value of £ 25.000 at most. It will have three tiers. 

Some first impressions

Tier 1 is mainly about providing information. A web platform can serve to provide this kind of information, unilaterally or through interactive Q&A. My favourite platform is the UK’s In the Netherlands, het Juridisch Loket, the government-provided free legal kiosk, is such a platform, and there is interactive Q&A on Rechtwijzer, by the Dutch Legal Aid Board. Modria, the makers of the eBay and PayPal dispute resolution systems, also built Rechtwijzer 2.0. This new Rechtwijzer, now in the final phases of development, is, at present, meant to provide support for couples managing their separation or divorce.
Automated negotiation support in a web platform with user interaction, like Cybersettle, segues into Tier 2. In Tier 2, a human facilitator/mediator can use remote communication, either synchronous such as instant messaging, video conferencing or the telephone, or asynchronous communication like messages or email. Communication with parties is needed to reduce the complexity of the dispute to a level that enables resolving it.   
In Tier 3, the online judge can also use remote communication where needed. This judge also needs a digital case file and secure web communication.
Hazel Genns research taught us that the nature of the problem people have is an important determinant for the type of resolution they require. Consumer problems are resolved easily if the seller has an effective complaints procedure. Problems in long term relationships like family and labour problems are hard to resolve, but also hard to bear, which is an incentive to resolve them consensually. Problems with government agencies tend to be harder to resolve... Our own experience with the eKantonrechter, a simple, consensual court procedure for simple problems, shows that there seems to be little inherent demand for this type of procedure. Consensual dispute resolution has its limits. On the adversary side: low value disputes are not always simple. ODR can be suitable for low value disputes if it can reduce costs, to the user and to the taxpayer, and on the condition that it keeps the complexity of the dispute at an acceptable level – neither over simple nor unnecessarily complex.  

·         Tier One of HMOC should provide Online Evaluation. This facility will help users with a grievance to classify and categorize their problem, to be aware of their rights and obligations, and to understand the options and remedies available to them.
·         Tier Two of HMOC should provide Online Facilitation. To bring a dispute to a speedy, fair conclusion without the involvement of judges, this service will provide online facilitators. Communicating via the Internet, these individuals will review papers and statements and help parties through mediation and negotiation. They will be supported where necessary, by telephone conferencing facilities. Additionally, there will be some automated negotiation, which are systems that help parties resolve their differences without the intervention of human experts.
·         Tier Three of HMOC should provide Online Judges – full-time and part-time members of the Judiciary who will decide suitable cases or parts of cases on an online basis, largely on the basis of papers submitted to them electronically as part of a structured process of online pleading. This process will again be supported, where necessary, by telephone conferencing facilities.
The proposal takes the insights from Hazel Genns Paths to Justice on the needs of people with justiciable problems into account. Genns research was replicated in the Netherlands by Ben van Velthoven and Marijke ter Voert and reported in the dispute resolution delta. This research and its later additions shows that often, information is enough to help people resolve their problem. Sometimes they need someone to help them. If that also fails, there is still the court of law.  
The report does not explicitly analyse the process of dispute resolution, perhaps because there was no judge or magistrate in the Group. Here is what I mean by analysis. Parties first discuss the problem between them. They both introduce information into the debate. Tier 1 can help them with new information suggesting how to resolve their problem. This information can be about ways to resolve problems, but also about legal rules and trends in case law. If they find a solution that satisfies them both, the problem is resolved. If not, they can then choose to use tier 2. In tier 2, the facilitator enters the arena. He or she can help the parties to introduce even more information about their side of the dispute. It is important that the information the parties used in Tier 1 is also still at hand. Next, all that information can be reduced to what is relevant for resolving the problem. Some negotiation or mediation may be useful to help parties find a solution. If that fails as well, the online judge in Tier 3 can decide the dispute with a judgment.
This brief description provides some indication for the way in which information technology can be leveraged to resolve disputes.

Back to my initial questions

Hazel Genns research taught us that the nature of the problem people have is an important determinant for the type of resolution they require. Consumer problems are resolved easily if the seller has an effective complaints procedure. Problems in long term relationships like family and labour problems are hard to resolve, but also hard to bear, which is an incentive to resolve them consensually. Problems with government agencies tend to be harder to resolve... Our own experience with the eKantonrechter, a simple, consensual court procedure for simple problems, shows that there seems to be little inherent demand for this type of procedure. Consensual dispute resolution has its limits. On the adversary side: low value disputes are not always simple. ODR can be suitable for low value disputes if it can reduce costs, to the user and to the taxpayer, and on the condition that it keeps the complexity of the dispute at an acceptable level – neither over simple nor unnecessarily complex. There is more to ODR than just an alternative to a face to face court hearing. When a dispute needs a fresh look at the merits of facts and rules, and possibly a new idea of the stakes involved, a face to face court hearing may still be the most effective way of resolving it. As remote communication becomes more mainstream and cheaper, remote hearings may also become more mainstream.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The eKantonrechter: direct digital court access for citizens

The Netherlands judiciary recently completed a digital procedure for everyday disputes. This blog explains how eKantonrechter was developed and implemented.

The procedure
The procedure is based on an existing provision, article 96 of the Code of Civil Procedure, giving court access to parties who want to put a dispute before a judge together. The procedure is consensual in the sense that parties agree  to put the dispute before the judge together. They can do so themselves, no legal representation is required. A judgment is guaranteed within eight weeks of filing. The disputes can be small claims of up to € 25.000, or labor, consumer or housing problems. There is usually an oral hearing, but the fixed, limited disposition time does not allow for hearing witnesses or otherwise thorough examination of the facts. 

Digital access
In part 4 of Technology for Justice, my book on improving justice with information technology, I have laid out some guidelines for web access to justice and courts. Communication should be based on understanding the information demands people have, given that they have a problem that needs to be resolved. Information needs to be understandable to people with an average level of education. The information provided needs to give people the confidence that if they follow the instructions, they will achieve results. 

Earlier experiment
Direct access to courts for citizens had been tried before. There was an earlier experiment, at least twenty years ago, to give citizens direct access to court. It involved a paper form that could be bought in a stationery shop, filled out, and sent to the court to file a claim. The court then summoned the other party, which was the beginning of a civil procedure. Judges struggled with the information people put in the form. Parties struggled with the complex procedural rules of an adversarial civil procedure, that were hard to explain and even harder to understand.

The new procedure
This time, the procedure was designed to start with a digital form. The parties, after agreeing to put their dispute before the court, each fill out a part of it. Because the procedure is consensual and not adversarial, the rules are less complex.  The procedure itself is conducted entirely over the internet, except for the hearing which is face to face in court. For authentication, parties log into the kiosk with DigiD, the Dutch government digital ID. For extra security, they get a text message with an access code. For firms, authentication works with eHerkenning, the government ID for legal entities. Lawyers log in with their Bar ID. One party takes the initiative, logs in to the judiciary's digital kiosk, and fills out the first part of the form. The system then provides a code, with which the other party can log in to this particular case. The other party then fills out the other half of the form, and submits it to court. The court then reviews the information for admissibility. As there is only one court hearing and the disposition time is limited, only simple cases can be admitted. After the dispute is admitted, parties can provide additional information and upload documents they want to present as evidence. The court fee is paid electronically as part of the submission process. Parties are also presented with optional time slots for the oral hearing. They can indicate when they are not available. The information from the forms is fed into the court’s case registration system and into the digital case file. The oral hearing is then set by the court. After the hearing, the judgment is uploaded into the digital case file.

Building digital access
My team, charged with designing and then building the new digital procedure, was determined to do better than the paper form. It was particularly important to get the forms right. We started with a workshop discussing the information the judges need to determine the merits of the case: what is the problem, what happened, did they attempt to resolve the dispute amicably, what is the claim, what evidence is available. We then designed different ways of asking questions lay people are capable of answering. Web technology offers ways of asking structured questions: yes/no, drop down lists, radio buttons. This information is accurate, and can be handled easily. However, it is rather poor in content. Asking for the story: what happened, what makes you think so, what is the background, provides much richer information, but it is not quite so manageable. We tested the different methods, on paper, with a test panel provided by the Dutch Consumers Union. We had devised fictional disputes, cases our panelists could use to fill out our forms: a contract case about a fading couch, another one about a labor dispute, and a tort case involving physical damage. This enabled us to check whether different types of disputes can be described adequately. With lots of feedback from the panel, we designed a digital form combining structured and unstructured questions. The panel came back, tested this form, and told us they needed more context and help in answering the questions.  We then added explanations and help information. For those who feel they cannot fill out the forms themselves, we added a link to the legal aid kiosk, the Juridisch Loket. The panel then came back to test the final product. They told us they could use the form easily. The eKanton procedure for citizens went live at the end of May 2014.

What comes next?

Devising a procedure is one thing, whether it meets the needs of those who seek justice is a different matter. Whether or how digital access to court is an improvement that will enhance access to justice is one of the major themes in the access to justice debate. It remains to be seen whether the eKanton procedure will be used by citizens. For the Dutch judiciary’s digitalization program, it was an opportunity to take a simple, existing procedure, digitalize it and learn about the process. This experience now feeds into the digitalization program for all other court procedures. More about those later. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

CTC2013 day 3: what's the big idea?

Bench and Chambers 2023 was the title of our judges' panel - Roberto Torres, David Harvey, Martin Gonzales and myself - on Thursday morning. Ten years ago, Facebook and Twitter did not exist yet and Money Claim On Line had only just started. So who can tell where things may be ten years from now? The panel speculated away, and tried to make some educated guesses on the way: no more court buildings, everyone, including jury members, will work from home, evidence will be displayed on the 3D screens we will all have in our homes by then. Brain imaging technology will change the way we determine guilt, big data (all those court decisions and other information) will bring performance analysis of courts and lawyers to the general public, and sentencing analysis to the courts. On line communication will be the norm, and the judges will be digital natives who can cope with all the technology seamlessly. Most of the court users will be self representing litigants. It was a great session, the audience was very engaged, and they just would not leave.

The big idea of CTC2013: e-filing, digital natives, SRLs
E-filing seems to be the big idea of this edition of CTC. It saves court staff capacity, and in some cases produced a 20% faster disposition, even with a double caseload compared to the baseline. The other big theme was the Digital Native. How to empower digital native court users was part of nearly every discussion, with the Self Representing Litigant (SRLs) a close second. Clearly, the future will be hard for tomorrow's lawyers, but also for tomorrow's courts. 
It is always a privilege to see where the discussion is going in the most technologically-experienced jurisdiction in the world. My impression is that some court systems in Europe are catching up quickly. I wish they would get together and exchange experience like the US courts do at CTC. Congratulations to the National Center for State Courts for yet another successful CTC.

CTC2013 Day 2: focusing on the users

On Wednesday morning, Karl Agen presented the results of a poll of the public's opinion of the courts. His slides are here. The report can be found here: People's idea of the courts as largely based on what they see on television. There are 73 different Law & Order shows on television right now. People associate courts with unnecessary lawsuits, inefficiency and bureaucracy. Advisory: customers want efficiency and respect at their point of contact with the courts, 73% think investment in new technology can make a difference, they want to do business with the courts the way they do with their banks, i.e. from home. 

In the afternoon, I was part of "the world's largest jury", in a trial to test display technology by the Center for Legal and Court Technology, led by prof. Fred Lederer. Our job was to decide whether, and if so, which of two people involved in some small scale road rage should be held responsible for an injury sustained by one of them. The test involved displaying a brick with alleged traces of blood and hair and a baseball bat with alleged traces of contact with the brick on a 2D screen, and on different types of 3D screens, from a 3D image camera. The members of the world's largest jury wore different types of 3D glasses. The jury voted by show of hands. I wondered whether the 3D projection made any difference to the outcome, but that was not the point of the exercise. 

Next, I attended what was more a class than a presentation, on e-discovery. This means that David Harvey and Daniel Garrie taught me a lot I did not yet know. Coming from a jurisdiction that does not have mandatory discovery, I look for those elements of this class that are relevant for handling electronic evidence in a more general sense, and for using electronic means to do so. 
 What you need to know may not be in the legible text of the document, but in its metadata. For instance, where an email was sent from, or when. Therefore, you want the document in native form. Lawyers also need to know their clients' business, including how they run their information services. Courts should be proactive in moving the e-discovery process forward, using case conferences and possible cost shifting. 
Methodologies include keyword searching using a white or blacklist, excluding duplicates, concept searching and predictive coding. The process needs to be geared by reasonableness and proportionality: is what is at stake worthe the effort and resources involved? Helpful: the New Zealand checklist, and model orders available in the 7th circuit of Northern California. The class was much more entertaining than can be gleaned from this very brief summary.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

ctc2013 day 1:2 more or less effective discussions

Tuesday morning, the first education session in the tech for judges track. My colleague Martin Gonzales, federal judge from Denver, Co., speaks about the problems court users can have with e-filing. Clearly, we need to serve them as well as everyone else. The point of my own presentation is that courts and judges need to understand how they process information in their cases, in order to grasp what IT can do for them. Simplification will make legal protection available to more people, and the market for legal information is changing dramatically. 
The session by the Nebraska e-courts was a neat description of what it means to take small steps when developing IT in your court.
At lunch, with the judges panel to prepare our Thursday morning, 8:30 discussion on tech for judges in 2023, we hit it off right away with a discussion on sentencing guidelines and how to computerize them - for advisory purposes only, of course.
Flags here are at half mast after the Navy yard shooting. On television, discussions on how it could have been prevented follow the by now common pattern: how come agencies did not have the information that now turns out to have been available, and whether or not to have more gun control.
Next is a q and a-session on social media that I find hard to follow because it has the format of a game I don't know, the group discussions are not amplified and the light level in the conference room is too low to even see who is speaking. Therefore, what I pick up from this session is a little haphazard: Court staff are not allowed to make themselves known as such when using social media, and jurors can be held in contempt if they use social media while on jury duty. The central message, however, is clear: every court should have a social media policy. 
The final session for the day was about responding to the demand for disruptive technologies. This turned out to be an interesting discussion, mainly between court IT staff as far as I could tell. What challenges them most are things like the permanent shortage of bandwidth, iPads, and judges who expect their personal devices to be serviced by the court IT staff, in one case even on a Saturday. The term disruptive technology was used earlier by Richard Susskind, who identified ODR as a technology that disrupts the lawyer's traditional way of doing business. The most disruptive element I could glean from the discussion here are no doubt the judges, at least in the perception of their IT staff. Enough for the day!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

CTC 2013 day 1: Ride the wave of change and go viral

day 1: ride the wave of change and go viral
CTC2013 opende with a keynote by Alec Ross, innovation adviser to Hillary Clinton and one of the whizkids on Barack Obama's 2008 election campaign. He pointed out some major trends: decentralization of power and loss of control. Those who are most adaptable to change can survive. Alec gave some interesting examples of the use of technology that took that context into account. The first was a project to increase crime reporting in drug-kartel-infested Northern Mexico. Denunzia Anonyma used encrypted sms messaging, and people started reporting crimes again using their cell phones. Next was the Icow app for dairy farmers in Kenya, used by the Maasai, an increasing their income by 30% by mapping cattle productivity. This app won a contest for the best African app.
Both these examples defy existing stereotypes of developing countries.
The 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak. The way to go is to understand that loss of control and ride the wave, empowering digital natives, taking intelligent risks and be tolerant of mistakes. Last advice: give the naysayers credit, make everyone look good and share credit. If you do something that works, it will go viral.

Monday, September 16, 2013

CTC2013 preview

This blog left off in October 2011 after #CTC2011 ended. Today, as #CTC2013 is about to begin, it starts again. Meanwhile, technology has advanced.
This morning, my project at home had an important meeting. I participated from Washington, DC using Facetime on my Ipad. That was not possible in 2011 - well, not for me anyway. I think video communication will change the way we do court cases considerably in the years to come. As it gets cheaper, it may well become a means to provide more legal protection to more user groups for whom going to court is unaffordable right now.
Richard Susskind says the "high street law firm" does not have a future, it is not an affordable way of providing legal services. The future is not for corner shops, but for more supermarket-like setups. I wonder if that is also true for courts.
At CTC2013, I will be participating in an educational session on information technology for judicial officers. My talk will focus on how we process information, a topic largely overlooked in the  IT discussions. This session is part of a thread on IT for judicial officers. On Thursday, some of the speakers from this thread will do a panel discussion on tech for judges in 2023. I am still thinking about the themes to choose for this discussion, which will hopefully be interactive, since that is the added value of a panel.
So now, off to Baltimore! - and more in this blog tomorrow!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A walk around the exhibition hall: lots of vendors selling lots of case management systems, now with e-filing integrated. There are firms offering telephone court appearance for a fee, interesting. The first evidence camera using 3-D imagery is here. Everyone’s favourite, the silicone rubber keyboard that is completely silent, is also dishwasher safe. The crew from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (#ICTY) consider ordering 50 for their courtrooms. I want one at home, too! I test a check-in kiosk for jurors together with someone who turns out to be the CIO for the courts in San Jose, California – Silicon Valley, that is. No, that location is not an advantage. The constituency is so connected, the courts are not, and there is a big problem.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Wednesday, October 5 2011

This morning’s keynote sounded innocuous enough: Ending the Revolving Door of Justice: How Technology Helped One Judge Reengineer His Court. Therefore, I almost gave it a miss. That would have been a mistake, for judge and former public defender Steven Leifman of Miami-Dade county in Florida had an extremely interesting and moving story on how to divert people with a mental disorder from the criminal justice system into the health care circuit. More and more people in the criminal justice chain turn out to have a serious mental disorder. Keeping them in the prison system is not going to help, but sometimes a little mental health care does the job, at much lower cost. In the present climate, and in the U.S. context more generally, that is an unusual topic. My favourite quote: nothing makes a conservative liberal more quickly than being broke. Leifmans point was that diverting people is much cheaper than keeping them in prison. Where the technology came in was to provide the metrics on people with a mental disorder and how they moved through the criminal justice system, and at what cost. He also pointed out that judges have a moral authority they can use to raise issues. And finally, the observation that more veterans from Afghanistan are now committing suicide than there are casualties on the ground in Afghanistan. His program tries to identify them and give them the care they need, so they do not end up in the US criminal justice system.
Tuesday, October 4 2011

This morning, David Pogue, technology reviewer for the New York Times, opened CTC 2011 with a keynote on Disruptive Technology. He introduced the audience to an awful lot of really cool apps and speculated on a few of their effects. It was very entertaining. The video will be on the NCSC web site soon. It will be well worth watching. Click here for more. Pogue’s talk included some of his songs on Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Click here for a sample from YouTube.
The panel on Taking Measuring Court Performance Seriously took place right after lunch. The panel was originally conceived as an inernational, comparative discussion on factors affecting the level of serious performance measuring. For the predominantly U.S. audience, the format had been modified. Ron Bowmaster of the Utah courts and Craig Burlingame of the Massachusetts courts talked about their experiences with measuring court performance in their court systems. My role was to provide a wider, more judicial perspective using some of the Dutch courts’ experience and observations from other courts systems I have worked with. Invariably, output-based budgeting attracts attention, and this time was no different. The message, however, was to ensure quality measuring to counterbalance too much attention to quantitative aspects. The session was moderated by Richard Schauffler of the National Center.
The other highlight of the day was the session presenting a study on videoconferencing in Australia – and some courts in Europe by Anne Wallace. It shows there is much more to videoconferencing in courts than meets the eye, so to speak. The use of technology changes communication, and therefore the understanding of the statements being made.
The technology exhibition opened at 5.00. Vendors are offering case management systems, these days most of them are integrated solutions. Some of them remain vague when asked in how many courts their solutions have been implemented. The coolest thing I saw was a completely silent keyboard made of a rubbery, silicone material, Completely waterproof, and completely silent. It would be a great asset to any courtroom where keyboards are used to input information. And of course, there is the hunt for the coolest gadgets distributed by the vendors. In these days of crisis, the booty is small. A pen that lights up, a 2 gigabyte usb-drive, a yoyo that does not work very well. Anyway, more tomorrow.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Monday, October 3 2011

The 2011 Court Technology Conference starts tomorrow, Tuesday October 4. This is where I restart the daily blog.
Last week, I was at the e-justice seminar and workshop by the Judicial Studies Center of the Americas, CEJA, in Santiago, Chile. It was their first seminar on courts and IT. Participants from Brazil, Costa Rica and Chile gave an overview of developments in their judiciaries. Brazil now has a Judicial Council, and it is doing a project in electronic work processes. About 600 different work processes are being supported electronically. The system is already operational in two courts, with about 100 users. Courts participate on a voluntary basis, and about 55% of them actually do so. Costa Rica, by far the most IT-equipped judiciary of Latin America, is experimenting with notifications by email and fax.
At CEJA’s request I gave an overview of the findings in my book. Francesco Contini of IRSIG in Italy compared UK’s Money Claim On Line, Austrian Elektronischer Rechtsverkehr and French e-barreau on the point of development strategy. The lessons are to keep things simple, use standard components, learn from experience, build on what you already have, and not to over-regulate things.
The workshop the next day was on CEJA’s plan for an index of judicial services. It is still very much in development.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday September 24
This morning, a very interesting session on IT-supported self-help for self-representing litigants. What was still quite experimental two years ago is now becoming mainstream. The heart of it is the A2J author technology developed by Chicago-Kent Law School. It supports guiding users through question-and-answer sessions and it has reduced the time it takes for them to find something by more than half. The other place to go to on this topic is It hosts support services for self-representing litigants, of which there are many right now, and expectations are that until 2013, even more people will be involved in lawsuits because of the economic crisis. shows what the courts in New York State have done in the field of virtual self-help: on line forms that make parties think through their case, feed the case management system and generate a pleadings document, for eviction cases at first and now also for other frequently occurring cases.
Wednesday September 23
What is a good methodology for measuring judicial corruption? This was the question the Chief Justice of Iraq asked after my presentation on IT and Judicial Reform, this afternoon at CTC in Denver. Richard Van Duizend and Dan Hall of the National Center for State Courts and I presented on the role of IT in judicial reform in different parts of the world. NCSC has cooperated in the consortium that developed an international benchmarking system for court excellence. It is available on the Web at Courts and court systems can evaluate themselves on a number of relevant areas, as a first step in an assessment and reform process. My own talk was a very brief overview of the conclusions of my dissertation. They concern the significance of court and case management systems for effective performance, and timely delivery in particular,, the role of the Internet in the courts’ shadow function as the guardian of the law, and on how to use IT as a means to reduce opportunities for corruption. Dan Hall, finally, gave an example of the courts in Minnesota here in the U.S. where they had used IT to reduce a need for staffing.
Actually, since the state courts are all losing funding because of the economic crisis, the theme of reducing staff by using IT runs through this conference. And although these is some advocacy for using the crisis for creative solutions, those solutions are few and far between. Incidentally, the answer to the Chief Justice’s question is that there are no accepted ways of measuring judicial corruption. There is the possibility of a public survey asking people about their perception of actual corruption, and there is the Transparency International Bribe Payers Index, but that does not target judges specifically. During question time, someone asked where she could buy my book. Not just yet, but ah, if only my publisher could hear this! I just realized I can now use my twitterpage @doryontour to announce publication, when it finally comes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday afternoon: a discussion with other judges sharing ideas about the most pressing problems with regard to IT. My colleagues are refreshingly honest. In Japan, scanning is problematic because character recognition is not accurate enough for Japanese writing. Somewhere in the US, a case management systems is being developed for a six-judge court. All six are allowed to keep their own individual way of registering cases. The system is getting very expensive and it is taking a long time to build, and so it is technically out of date before it is fully implemented. E-filing is not sufficiently standardized to allow attorneys to file with different courts. Case management systems need to be replaced because the functionality is no longer enough. But how to make sure to get the right replacement? Another court has set up a self-help center for self-representing litigants, or pro-ses as the are called here. And then there is the court in Texas that has recently received some IT toys but does not yet know what to do with them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday September 22
CTC2009 started officially this morning. There was a special welcome for the chief justice of Iraq, who is here with a delegation. The keynote speech was delivered by Ari Shapiro of National Public Radio, mainly about how courts can ensure serious reporting about justice can be done without extreme effort in the part of the press. With examples of Twitter, Facebook and some blogs, notably he demonstrated how courts can ensure accurate information about what goes on in their courts: announcing important opinions being handed down (in Europe we would call that the pronouncement of a court decision) on Twitter that those interested can subscribe to, with links to the original documents, would be very helpful, Shapiro said. He cited an example of crowdsourcing on He closed by quoting Chief Justice John Roberts who, during the first phase of the nominations for a new justice earlier this year, confided that a new justice “is like an arranged marriage, you find someone you don’t know very well on your doorstep, and you have to live with them for the rest of your life”. Ari Shapiro has a page on
On Monday September 21 in the afternoon, the Federal Court in Denver hosted a meeting on the use of technology in the courtroom, and what courts’needs are. Marcia Krieger, the judge presiding over the meeting, remarked how in her courtroom, all participants in a trial were more or less arranged in a circle, which makes for more cooperative, less adversarial attitudes. This court has not gone completely paperless yet, since files still go to the appeal court on paper. Also, the record is still produced by a live court reporter, and not by audio or video recording. Marcia has three screens on her bench: on displaying evidence: one displaying the court record as it is being entered, and one for managing proceedings. The court does use remote connectivity to include witnesses, lawyers and other who are in far away locations in the proceedings, by phone or by video. It also uses an electronic organizer developed by the southern district of Texas, that has merged access to case documents, notes, instant messaging to law clerks, transcript access (Marcia did not manage displaying it, however) and access to Westlaw. In the ensuing discussion, there was a plea for more bandwidth on the remote technology. Another issue that is becoming more prominent is that of jurors using I-phones and social networking like Twitter from the jury box, creating a risk of mistrial and loss of resources. A plea for standard technical assistance in the courtroom was heard as well, so the judge does not have to manage all the controls, and summon assistance from elsewhere if something does not work.
Coffee meeting with Susanne Hoogwater, who has her own firm in visualizing legal information. We met through LinkedIn, which is saying something about Web 2.0. We talked for nearly two hours, about her work and about mine and my research. Our common ground is accessible legal information. We agreed the potential of the Internet as identified by Richard Susskind: helping informal settlement by providing “golden nuggets of legal information” will apply mainly to people with at least some secondary education. Legal institutions will have to package their information in such a way that it is easily understood by those who have some secondary education. Putting the law on line is not going to help. Those with a really low level of education will still need someone to sort out their shoe boxes of papers, so to speak. We also agreed that confidence is an important component of the communication about legal information. In my research, I have scored web sites for effectiveness, and that includes whether the reader can be confident that, if they act as instructed, will get the result they are after. Thank you, Susanne, for a copy of your book Beeldtaal voor Juristen, about graphic models for making legal information more accessible, and for an inspiring morning.

Friday, September 18, 2009

We - well, I do - forget how quickly technological developments are changing the way we live. In 2001, with CTC in Baltimore, Wim and I did a camping tour along the East coast of the U.S. We read our email in the local public libraries, a great free service. Eight years later, we travel with our notebook computers and have free wifi in all motels. We still go camping, and then we just park near a motel for wifi service. Clearly, we do not make electronic payments over open wireless, but otherwise it is very handy. There will be free wifi at CTC in Denver too.
Wim keeps track of his photo sales, and I have composed my presentation for CTC while we were in Yellowstone National Park which does not provide any kind of connectivity whatsoever. But I sat in a lobby with a view of Old Faithful Geyser for a couple of hours and moved and pasted my slides. As I closed my notebook, Old Faithful gracefully erupted. Awesome.
We also bought a satellite navigation system (a tom-tom) to experiment with while driving. It was $ 129 at WalMart. And as things go, the function we use most is not the one it was designed for, but something else: that of keeping track of maximum speed. It shows you the maximum speed and beeps when you drive too fast. It also finds us hotels and restaurants. We will bring it home and download the European maps. However, we still have lots of paper maps and would not know how to travel without them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The 2009 Court Technology Conference will be held in Denver, Colorado September 22-24. Check out the program here.
I attended CTC for the first time in 1999, in Los Angeles, and have attended all of them (five in all) since then. They are organized by the National Center for State Courts in the U.S., and they are always an interesting mix of experience sharing, highlighting new issues and reactions to present-day problems.
This year's program focuses on keeping things going in difficult times, but it also has Ari Shapiro National Public Radio's justice expert in the opening keynote. There is always the election of the best court web site. I meet friends and colleagues at the special interest group for judges. Another of my favorite items is Fred Lederer's court technology lab.
My plan is to do a blog on the conference every day. My twitterpage @doryontour will announce the program items during the course of the day. So, keep coming back here, and also let me know what you think by sending comments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One of my projects right now is to think about IT in courts in 2020. The Dutch judiciary is doing some brain storming on the future, and this will be input for some of the sessions. In 2002, we made some projections about court IT in 2008. So I started out by revisiting our 2002 projections for 2008 to see what had been realized. Workplace on line access to sources of legal information (jurisprudence, laws and legislation history) for judges and court staff, and nationwide coordination the case load of large criminal cases are both a reality in 2008. The plan for a single case registration system? Nope! Practically all the other projections depended on the new case registration system being in place, so the list of successes is short.
Dutch courts are not at the forefront of IT development in Europe, according to the latest report from CEPEJ. The Commission Européenne pour l'Efficacité de la Justice has gathered information about court operations since 2002. The results show how a few countries have actually managed to leverage IT to transform their court processes: the UK, Finland and Austria are examples. The second echelon are able to use the Internet for informal email and for finding information, but not to interact with court users. Interaction would require changes in processes that are hard to achieve. Right now, we can only speculate about the reasons: formal legal requirements (can they be deformalized?), security needs (is that high security level really necessary?), lack of experience with electronic information processing (do we need more experimentation?). And most importantly: how can we learn from the others?
Keep watching this space, these issues will be explored here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Welcome to my blog!

Reviving this blog was one of my resolutions. Long overdue, but now finally realized. This blog will share discoveries and some results of my ongoing research.

A lot has happened since that lonely blog was uploaded in 2003.

Early in 2004, I moved to the U.S. when the World Bank hired me as a senior judicial reform expert. My main tasks were sharing my experience as IT program manager and Information Manager for the Netherlands judiciary, in projects, training and knowledge generation. In 2007, I came back to the Netherlands. Supported by the Netherlands Judicial Council, and building on all that experience, I am presently working on a doctoral dissertation on information technology and judicial reform. Sharing my experience has always been a great pleasure.

This blog will share some of the vast amount of stuff I learned during all those extremely interesting years, as well as newly emerging insights.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Brave New Cybercourt (1)

Governor John Engler of Michigan put his state squarely on the Brave New Cybermap: Michigan has the world’s first cybercourt. Or does it? And if so, what of it? Does it do us any good?

The court was created by legislation passed in December 2001, which became law on January 9, 2002. Here is the press release on the signing of the law. Electronic document filing, Web-based conferencing and virtual courtrooms would be part of the cybercourt. This would reduce travel time and costs and resolve disputes relatively quickly. The initiative was heralded in the press.

Let’s take a closer look at the portal for the court.
In the Michigan cybercourt, a judge (no jury will be involved) will hear business and commercial cases in which the amount in dispute exceeds $25,000. Decisions can be appealed to the (noncyber) Court of Appeals. The court's jurisdiction is concurrent with that of other courts. The plaintiff can therefore choose whether or not to sue in the virtual court. Any defendant who objects to the case having been filed in the cybercourt can seek to remove the case to the ordinary court.. The dispute must be within the jurisdiction of a Michigan State Court. Any dispute arising that crosses the boundaries of the state of Michigan would have to be heard by a noncyber federal court.
Lawyers will be able to file their briefs online, argue their cases and appear in court via videoconference, and present evidence via streaming audio and video. Cybercourt judges will be trained in the use of the latest technology.

Comments in the legal press and welcome the idea of appearing in court while not in court. Somehow, they like the idea of appearing in court in their pajama’s! On the other hand, they say it's hard to envision how any proceeding that takes place online could adequately replace the face-to-face closeness of a physical courtroom. A witness' testimony is often more important than mere words, and body language surely can't be read as well in two dimensions, regardless of how advanced streaming technology becomes. And, although many Internet cases involve technologies that can be displayed online, how could a cybercourt allow a judge or jury to physically examine a piece of hardware that might be vital to a case. In how many cases does that really happen? The cybercourt website does not tell us. We keep searching. In our search, we will circle the globe, keep watching this space!

The Singapore Subordinate Courts deal with a considerable number of e-commerce cases. They offer mediation as part of their service. They feel that reconciliation and cooperation is part of their culture, rather than adversarial, contradictory proceedings in the Western tradition. Mediation is generally held to be a practical way of dealing with disputes between parties who have to continue their relationship. Go here to see for yourself. The mediation process is conducted via e-mail. Its outcome is a settlement of the dispute by the parties. If not, formal action can be filed.
E-mail is very low-tech compared to the snazzy stuff of the Michigan cybercourt. And yet, it is sufficient to support mediation. 5.000 e-commerce cases were mediated in 2001, and more than 9.000 in 2002, according to the annual report of the courts. Frankly, one of the good things about the Singapore courts is that we can find these data without difficulty.

How much do we need high tech dispute resolution support? The Netherlands judiciary deals with a little over 300.000 commercial cases each year. More than 70 % are uncontested small claims. Witness hearings are conducted in less than 3 % of all cases. So, a little technology can go a long way.