Monday, February 25, 2019

Court digitalization: not easy!

A visit to the showcase court of a judiciary somewhere in Europe. The court clerk shows us how he works digitally. If he wants to view a document in a case, he looks up the case in the registration system, notes the case number on a piece of paper, closes the registration system, opens the file viewer, taps in the case number, and sees the documents in the relevant case. The PDF documents in the file are arranged in chronological order, that is, if they are properly organized. The secretary checks new arrivals, completes the registration system where necessary, and allows cases into the system.
The courts in this country went paperless a few years ago. Everyone can submit a case digitally in the portal. What happens behind that portal is a different story. Some adjustments were made to the old systems that date back to the 1980s. The users, judges, and court clerks, are not happy. They have more work, and the courts also use more paper than before. After all, they now have to print documents themselves if they want something on paper, because they no longer receive their information on paper.
Now that I am retired, I have time to look around in Europe to see how the courts are working digitally. When I give a lecture or a workshop somewhere, I also pay a visit to the people who develop the IT for the courts. My impression: they all have the same struggle: How to get from a traditional, paper-based work process to one with only digital information. Some do it step by step; maybe that works, but it takes a long time. Others start with a digital case file. That also takes a lot of time. My showcase country started at the front end, and that now gives all sorts of problems with the work processes within the courts. Others have a wide-ranging program with a lot of funding, and whether that actually works is uncertain. In all cases, the transition places many harsh demands on the judicial organizations. The system and the process legislation will quickly become so inextricably linked that they can no longer be seen as separate. The work processes must be standardized and arranged from the outset. Decision-making processes must be in place that determine who is allowed to decide on the work processes and the system and when. Experience shows putting user friendliness first is key, and making savings should not be the overriding goal. That makes for dissatisfied users. After the experience with the digital commercial claims procedure in the Quality and Innovation Program (more about that some other time), my impression is that the judges in the Netherlands would never have accepted what the judges in my example judiciary have to put up with.
Another consequence of retirement: this was my last blog for Dutch legal magazine Mr-online. This is the last time that I, as usual just before the deadline, send my blog to Mr-online. Not because I have nothing more to say, on the contrary. My agenda is full of guest lectures, conferences, panels, fora and consultancy assignments. There are interesting developments, such as the discussion about artificial intelligence and what that can mean for the judiciary. I will keep writing about it on this, my own Technology for Justice blog. I report new blogs to my followers on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
It is time to make room. Mr-Online, thank you for having been my forum for almost ten years.